Roman Amphitheatre of Augusta Emerita (Mérida, Spain)

Roman Amphitheatre of Augusta Emerita (Mérida, Spain)

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Roman architecture in Merida: 10 places not to miss

Follow the steps of the Romans in Merida with this list of 10 places you should not miss.

1. Roman theatre

The most relevant monument in the city is an impressive theatre. It currently holds numerous cultural events, such as a prestigious Classic Theatre Festival every August.

Where: Calle José Ramón Mélida s/n

How much: €15 (General ticket giving access to 7 monuments)

Opening times: (April-September) Mon-Sun from 09:00 to 21:00 (October-March) Mon-Sun from 09:30 to 19:00.

2. Roman amphitheatre

This is where Romans used to go to enjoy some of the most popular shows at that time – gladiator combats and fights between wild animals. It could accommodate around 15,000 people and they would sit according to their rank.

Where: Calle José Ramón Mélida s/n

How much: €15 (General ticket giving access to 7 monuments)

Opening times: (April-September) Mon-Sun from 09:00 to 21:00 (October-March) Mon-Sun from 09:30 to 19:00.

3. Roman circus

With a capacity of 30,000 people, this circus is considered to be one of the largest of this kind and used to hold chariot races. Part of the stands and gateways can still be seen today and you can learn a bit about the history of the circus at the visitor centre.

Where: Avenida Juan Carlos I, s/n

How much: €15 (General ticket giving access to 7 monuments)

Opening times: (April-September) Mon-Sun from 09:00 to 21:00 (October-March) Mon-Sun from 09:30 to 14:00 and from 16:00 to 19:00.

4. Roman bridge

The bridge was the first thing the Romans built in Augusta Emerita and is one of the largest Roman bridges in Spain (792 m). Have an afternoon stroll or enjoy a good view of the bridge and the Guadiana River from the top of the Alcazaba (Arab castle) wall.

Where: Calle del Puente s/n

How much: Free

5. Casa del Mitreo

The huge size and sumptuous decoration remains of this house are a sign of the wealth and social status of its original family owners. A number of rooms around three patios, an underground room, a pool and even their very own thermal baths. What a life!

Where: Calle Oviedo, s/n

How much: €15 (General ticket giving access to 7 monuments)

Opening times: (April-September) Mon-Sun from 09:00 to 21:00 (October-March) Mon-Sun from 09:30 to 14:00 and from 16:00 to 19:00.

6. Templo de Diana

Located in Mérida’s city centre, this weird-looking Roman temple is one of my favourite monuments. Check out my article ‘Living like a Caesar – the guy who built himself a palace in a Roman temple’ to read all about it.

Where: Calle Romero Leal, s/n

How much: Free

7. San Lázaro aqueduct

Located very near the circus, this aqueduct was named after a chapel in honour of Saint Lazarus that was knocked down some 70 years ago. Only some cutwaters, three pillars and a couple of arches of the original Roman aqueduct remain today. The rest dates back only a few hundred years.

Where: Avenida Juan Carlos I, s/n

How much: Free

8. Los Milagros aqueduct

It is said to have been named ‘Miracles’ because both locals and visitors could not believe its extraordinary state of conservation after so many centuries. Some of its pillars and columns are 27 m high and are home to a few stork nests.

Where: Avenida Vía de La Plata, s/n

How much: Free

9. National Roman Art Museum

Well, this museum was not obviously built by the Romans, but I decided to include it in the list anyway, as it displays one of the best collections of Roman sculptures and mosaics in the country. Likewise, you can also see houses, tombs and part of the Roman road.

Where: Calle de José Ramón Mélida, s/n

How much: €3 (free on Saturdays after 14:00, Sunday mornings and some national holidays)

Opening times: (April-September) Tue-Sat from 09:30 to 20:00 (October-March) Tue-Sat from 09:30 to 18:30 Sun and holiday from 10:00 to 15:00.

10. Morería archaeological site

Here the remains of the Roman city wall and part of the Roman road can be seen, as well as remains from different historical periods. The site was discovered in the mid-nineties when they started building new regional government offices. Despite complaints from local people, the project went ahead and the offices were built literally over the site.

Where: Paseo de Roma

How much: €15 (General ticket giving access to 7 monuments)

Opening times: (April-September) Mon-Sun from 09:30 to 14:00 and from 17:00 to 19:30 (October-March) Mon-Sun from 09:30 to 14:00 and from 16:00 to 19:00.


There are four cities in the world that share the name Mérida. Read more about it in 𔃴 Latin American cities named after places in Extremadura‘.

Amphitheatre of Mérida

The Amphitheatre of Mérida (Anfiteatro de Mérida) was completed in 8 BC in the Roman colony of Emerita Augusta, present-day Mérida, Spain. It was built for gladiatorial fights and the hunting and killing of wild animals, known as venationes.

One of the main entrances into the Amphitheatre of Mérida

The amphitheatre is elliptical in shape and is 126m along the major axis. Its design consists of a grandstand with ima, media and summa cavea, and a central arena. The stands had a capacity of approximately 15,000 spectators. The spectators were divided according to rank and status the lowest seats were reserved for the highest status spectators. Supporting stairs and passages connected the different parts internally.

The ima cavea had of a row reserved for the local élite and ten more for members of the public. There were also two stands located at both sides of the minor axis: one above the main entrance hall and another in front. Under them, is an inscription used to date the amphitheatre.

Today, only these lowest tiers survive. Once the games had fallen into disuse, the stone of the upper tiers was quarried for use elsewhere.

Part of the box reserved for magistrates and individuals who paid for the gladiator fights

Roman amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre of Mérida (Anfiteatro de Mérida) was completed in 8 BC. It was built for gladiatorial fights and the hunting and killing of wild animals, known as venationes. It has an elliptical arena, surrounded by tiered seating for around 15,000 spectators, divided according to Roman rank and status.

How has it reached our days?

Maybe the most surprising thing this place has is what we have talked about before: the fact that it still does the job for which it was built more than 2000 years ago. Especially knowing that it was abandoned, buried and forgotten for centuries. A complete stranger for the inhabitants that lived in this place, at least until last century.

Although it was renovated several times immediately after its building, the most important aspect of its evolution was right that it stopped evolving. When Christianism dictated that the legal representation was something very immoral, back in the 4 th century, the Roman theater closed its doors and the inhabitants turned their back. People, along with nature, buried the stands and used its land for agriculture. The Roman theater was used as support for the food production.

The only thing that remained in view was the upper stand It almost seems as it never finished trying to make its way through the land. That same people that didn’t know where their potatoes were grown, were aware that something stuck out from it, something with the shape of really big chairs. That is why these ruins were known as the Siete Sillas (seven chairs) since then. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20 th century when the excavations started, and here they found… Well, a bunch more of chairs.

Roman Theater of Mérida. | Shutterstock

The theater appeared little by little. The main archeologist, responsible for the first works in this place, was José Ramón Mélida. José Menéndez-Pidal y Álvarez kept doing this job in the middle of the 20 th century, although in 1993 the theater came back as a spectacle to this impressive scenario. He did it with Margarita Xirgu, who was determined to give Caesar, the theater, what it’s Caesar’s, the theater. It was the beginning of the International Festival of the Classical Theater of Mérida. By the year 1953, after 19 years of pause, it was strengthened.

Roman Amphitheatre of Augusta Emerita (Mérida, Spain) - History

The restoration of historical buildings is very important for the history and culture of the cities and their population. It requires an advanced knowledge of the building materials used for the construction of these structures. Previously to any intervention in historical buildings, it is necessary a historic-scientific study of the original material. Historic mortars or concretes can reveal us different composition and the dependence on the geographical location and the time period of its construction. Historical concretes are complex systems that contain aerial or hydraulic binders or a blend of them, with aggregates, not always crystalline, and others elements that interact with the binder. The use of different techniques for microstructural characterization of materials, like optical microscopy, X-ray diffractometry or petrophysical analysis, allows the determination of the composition and some properties of these concretes. However, each technique has its own limits and, in many cases, several characterization techniques must be used to obtain coherent and reliable results. The present study focuses on the compositional characterization of Roman concrete from Roman buildings for public spectacles of Emerita Augusta, Mérida, Spain. An advanced knowledge of the Roman concrete composition is required to get a reliable restoration and preservation of these ancient monuments. Various samples of concrete were extracted from different zones from this archaeological site. The concrete was studied through mineralogical analysis (petrographic microscope and XRD) and petrophysical properties determination (bulk and real density, open porosity, mercury porosimetry intrusion, compressive strength and Ultrasound propagation velocity). The results obtained allow us to know the original composition of the concrete and the provenance of the aggregates used in it. Acknowledgements: Community of Madrid for financing Geomateriales2 program (P2013/MIT2914), to the funding provided by BIA 2014-53911-R project and to the Consortium for the Monumental City of Merida for the permission granted to collect concrete samples.

Merida Emerita Augusta

The Roman colony of Emerita Augusta (present day Mérida) was founded in 25 BC by Augustus, to resettle emeritus soldiers discharged from the Roman army from two veteran legions of the Cantabrian Wars: Legio V Alaudae and Legio X Gemina. The city was the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania. Today the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida is one of the largest and most extensive archaeological sites in Spain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.

Roman theatre
The theatre was built from 16 to 15 BC and dedicated by the consul Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. It was renovated in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD, possibly by the emperor Trajan, and again between 330 and 340 during Constantine’s reign, when a walkway around the monument and new decorative elements were added. With the advent of Christianity as Rome’s sole state religion, theatrical performances were officially declared immoral: the theatre was abandoned and most of its fabric was covered with earth, leaving only its upper tiers of seats (summa cavea). In Spanish tradition, these were known as “The Seven Chairs” in which it is popularly thought that several Moorish kings held court to decide the fate of the city.

Roman amphitheatre
The amphitheatre was dedicated in 8 BC, for use in gladiatorial contests and staged beast-hunts. It has an elliptical arena, surrounded by tiered seating for around 15,000 spectators, divided according to the requirements of Augustan ideology the lowest seats were reserved for the highest status spectators. Only these lowest tiers survive. Once the games had fallen into disuse, the stone of the upper tiers was quarried for use elsewhere.

Roman bridge over the Guadiana
The bridge can be considered the focal point of the city. It connects to one of the main arteries of the colony, the Decumanus Maximus, or east-west main street typical of Roman settlements.
The location of the bridge was carefully selected at a ford of the river Guadiana, which offered as a support a central island that divides it into two channels. The original structure did not provide the continuity of the present, as it was composed of two sections of arches joined at the island, by a large Starling. This was replaced by several arcs in the 17th century after a flood in 1603 damaged part of the structure. In the Roman era the length was extended several times, adding at least five consecutive sections of arches so that the road is not cut during the periodic flooding of the Guadiana. The bridge spans a total of 792 m, making it one of the largest surviving bridges of ancient times.

Los Milagros Aqueduct
The aqueduct was part of the supply system that brought water to Mérida from the Proserpina Dam located 5 km from the city and dates from the early 1st century BC.
The arcade is fairly well preserved, especially the section that spans the valley of the river Albarregas. It is known by this name, because it seems a miracle that it was still standing.

Temple of Diana
This temple is a municipal building belonging to the city forum. It is one of the few buildings of religious character preserved in a satisfactory state. Despite its name, wrongly assigned on its discovery, the building was dedicated to the Imperial cult. It was built in the late 1st century BC or early in the Augustan era. Later it was partly re-used for the palace of the Count of Corbos.
Rectangular, and surrounded by columns, it faces the front of the city’s Forum. This front is formed by a set of six columns ending in a gable. It is mainly built of granite.

Trajan Arch
An entrance arch, possibly to the provincial forum. It was located in the Cardo Maximus, one of the main streets of the city and connected it to the municipal forum.
Made of granite and originally faced with marble, it measures 13.97 meters high, 5.70 m wide and 8.67 m internal diameter. It is believed to have a triumphal character, although it could also serve as a prelude to the Provincial Forum. Immersed in the maze of modern construction and masked by nearby houses, this arch stands majestically and admired by travelers and historians of all times. Its name is arbitrary, as the commemorative inscription was lost centuries ago.

Mithraeum House
This building was found fortuitously in the early 1960s, and is located on the southern slope of Mount San Albín. Its proximity to the location of Mérida’s Mithraeum led to its current name. The whole house was built in blocks of unworked stone with reinforced corners. It demonstrates the peristyle house with interior garden and a room of the famous western sector Cosmogonic Mosaic, an allegorical representation of the elements of nature (rivers, winds, etc.) overseen by the figure of Aion. The complex has been recently roofed and renovated.
As mentioned above, it is not considered the actual mithraeum but a domus. The remains of the mithraeum are uphill from it in a plot corresponding to a current bullring. This site has rendered prime examples of the remnants of Mithraism. According to professor Jaime Alvar Ezquerra of the Charles III University of Madrid, the oldest mithraeum artifacts are observed outside of Rome and Mérida “is at the head of the provincial places where the cult is encountered”. These are currently located in the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, including the latest remains found in excavations as recently as 2003. He notes that some of the sculptures being discovered at the site are in very good condition, leading him to believe they were “hidden on purpose”.
Merida Aqueduct, Acueducto de los Milagros
Merida Mithraeum House
Merida Roman amphitheatre
Merida Roman bridge over the Guadiana
Merida Roman Theatre
Merida Temple of Diana
Merida Trajan Arch


The Roman Theatre of Mérida is a construction promoted by the consul Vipsanius Agrippa in the Roman city of Emerita Augusta, capital of Lusitania (current Mérida, Spain). It was constructed in the years 16 and 15 BC.

The theater has undergone several renovations, such as at the end of the 1st century or early 2nd century, possibly during the reign of Emperor Trajan, when the current facade of the scaenae frons was erected, and another in the time of Constantine I (between 330 and 340), introducing new decorative-architectural elements and a walkway around the monument. After the abandonment in Late Antiquity, it was covered with earth, only the upper tiers of seats (summa cavea) remaining visible. The popular imagination called it "The Seven Chairs", where, according to tradition, several Moorish kings sat to decide the fate of the city.

Raised by faithfully following the rules of the treaties of Vitruvius, shows similarities with the theaters of Dougga (Tunisia), Orange (France) and Pompeii (Italy). The building responds to a typical Roman model, as previously established in the buildings of Pompeii and Rome, with the diameter of cavea about 86 meters.

The grandstand consists essentially of a semicircular seating area (cavea), with capacity for 6,000 spectators eventually divided into three zones: the lowest tier called the ima cavea (22 rows), the medium tier called the media (5 rows) and a top tier called the summa, the latter in very poor state at present.

The bottom, where the wealthier social classes sat, is excavated and supported by the slope of the land itself, without artificial supports, according to Greek tradition, and like other theaters in Spain. This part is divided into five radial sectors (cunei) delimited by stairs for circulation, and horizontally, along a corridor (praecintio) that separates it from the stands above, supported by a complex system of arches and barrel vaults.

The orchestra was a semicircular space paved in white and blue marble. Here on three steps, originally of marble, were placed movable seats of the senators and top officials attending the theater. The orchestra was separated from the seats above by a parapet of marble, of which there are fragmentary remains.

The rectangular proscenium, the stage or pulpitum and finally the front of the scene (scaenae frons) are the most spectacular view of the theater property, is 7.5 m wide, 63 long and 17.5 in height. It is formed by two Corinthian columns with bases and cornices of marble, adorned with sculptures in the spaces between columns and in it there are three doors, a central door (valva regia) and two side doors (valvae hospitalia). Severe setbacks are visible in the arrangement of the blocks, consistent with the structural and compositional dynamism of the scene. It is unknown how the original stage front was, as the present seems to have been built under Emperor Trajan.

Characterization of concrete from Roman buildings for public spectacles in Emerita Augusta (Mérida, Spain)

The aim of this work is to characterize the original concrete from Roman buildings for public spectacles, theatre and amphitheatre, from Emerita Augusta, Mérida, Spain. An advanced knowledge of the Roman concrete composition is required for a reliable restoration and preservation of these ancient monuments. The concrete was studied through mineralogical (optical polarized microscopy and X-ray diffraction) and petrophysical (bulk and real density, open porosity to water and Hg, mechanical strength and ultrasonic velocity) analyses. With this work, it is possible to fill the gap that exists in this field and the characterization of the materials used in the Roman concrete from these two buildings, never previously studied, despite the significance of this archaeological ensemble, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. The results allowed us to determine the composition of the Roman concrete and to infer the provenance of the aggregates used in these monuments.

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Roman Amphitheatre of Augusta Emerita (Mérida, Spain) - History

The Archaeological Ensemble of Emérita Augusta (Mérida, Badajoz, Spain) was listed a World Heritage Site in 1993 by UNESCO. One of the monuments that belongs to this Archaeological Ensemble is the Roman amphitheatre, mainly built with granite from quarries located near the city. Every urban centre in the Roman Empire, in addition to many rural sites, had one or more local quarries from which they extracted the bulk of their stone. In Mérida, there are a group of documented quarries located near the ancient city. In this work the authors have been investigating five of these documented outcrops which, due the distance from the monument or the existence of ancient Roman routes of communication with the city, can be the possible original quarries. The provenance of these materials with which the monument is built is of significant interest in terms of the restoration and conservation and from a historical point of view of the monument. Nowadays, there are many examples of identification of the original quarries that use destructive procedures and techniques which are based on the physical, petrographical, geochemical, magnetic or mechanical properties that are a function of the mineralogical and textural characteristics of the rock. In this work, the combined use of two non-destructive and on-site techniques, ultrasonic velocity and surface hardness determined with a Schmidt hammer rebound tester, allows to determine first, the quality and degree of decay in the granites, usually affecting the material surface and consisting of a decline in surface cohesion, and second, it can discriminate possible provenance areas of the rock used in the building. These two techniques are very useful for this purpose for several reasons. Their combined use allows the selection of the most representative blocks and ashlars for sampling. This reduces sampling to a minimum showing representative results for the whole building, especially in the case of performing ageing tests in the laboratory and when assessing consolidating and protecting treatments based on the similar decay condition present in the real structure the combined values obtained from both techniques are directly and linearly related, can be used to compare the results from the building stones of the monument and from rocks from the surrounding documented quarries. The latter represents a suitable approach for locating the original quarries that supplied stone for construction and, in the case of many quarries having similar values, can be a method to exclude certain quarries. Moreover, the results also allow the identification of changes in determined physical properties of building stones, as porosity, mainly due to the exposure to climatic conditions, compared to fresh rocks from the quarries. The stones from the monument show lower ultrasonic and Schmidt hammer values than the rocks from the quarries. The obtained values from ultrasounds and from hardness surface measurement in the monument are affected by decay processes different from those in the quarries. This is due to the placement of ashlars in the monument (orientation), besides the cutting and carving of the stone and the surface finishing, which derives in a different correlation between the two sets of results from both techniques. Acknowledgements: to Geomateriales 2 programme (S2013/MIT-2914) funded by the Community of Madrid and to the Consorcio de la Ciudad Monumental de Mérida (Consortium of the Monumental City of Merida).

Watch the video: Roman Theatre of Mérida, Roman site in Spain Emerita Augusta (August 2022).