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(left) Copy of a statue of Emperor Augustus as Pontifex Maximus which was found in Rome; it stands in the archaeological area near the theatre ; (centre) bronze copy of Augustus of Prima Porta near the Alcazaba (fortress); (right) copy of the She-Wolf of Rome near the Alcazaba
A place of note is Merida, the capital city of the
province of Estremadura, built on the banks of the Guadiana, over which there is a most noble bridge, the work of that
great Emperor, as well as Builder, Trajan. There are here
still to be seen many fine remains of Roman antiquity. (..) The
walls for the most part are Roman; there are some remains of an Amphitheatre, Aqueduct, Circus, etc. all Roman. It was built by
Augustus, given by him to veteran troops, and called Emerita Augusta, whence corruptly Merida.
Rev. Edward Clarke - Letters Concerning the Spanish Nation - 1763
Merida. This town, formerly large, populous, and one of the most flourishing, now presents but a feeble image of what it was in remote times; the Romans were very fond of it, and it was one of those places they took delight in embellishing, one of those where they most displayed their grandeur and magnificence.
Alexandre de Laborde - A View of Spain - translated into English for Longman, Hurst, etc. 1809
Museo Nacional de Arte Romano of Merida: (left) head of a statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus from a building near the theatre: (right) head of a statue of the Genius of the Colony from the Municipal Forum
is the Rome of Spain in respect of
stupendous monuments of antiquity -
at every step we tread on some vestige
of the past. Emerita Augusta
was built by the Legate Publius
Carisius, in the year 25 B.C. Augustus
here settled the veteran Emeriti of
the 5th and 10th Legions, who had
served in Cantabria. The city became the capital of Lusitania. Its
splendour, as existing down to the 4th
century, is described by Prudentius
(Peris, iii. 3, 186), in his hymn on
the death of the patroness Eulalia: ("Far in the west lies Merida (..) a city, great and populous, but greater through the blood of martyrdom (..) that famous town by which the notable river Ana passes, washing the handsome walls as it sweeps along with its green waters"). (..) Merida has been strangely
neglected by our artists, architects, and
authors, who too often only go over
and over again the same beaten track.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
The city was created as an idealised model of Rome and was the capital of Lusitania, the western-most province of the Roman Empire. Following Diocletian's reform, it functioned as the capital of the Diocese of Hispania. It was also temporarily the royal seat of two Germanic peoples - the Suebi and the Visigoths.
From the UNESCO description of the town which was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1993.
(left-above) Symbol of Merida at Cruce de Calles (crossroads), the junction between Decumanus Maximus and Cardo Maximus, the two main streets of the Roman town; (left-below) a section of Decumanus Maximus; (right) Visigothic Museum of Merida: coat of arms of the town with a quotation from Ausonius - The Order of Famous Cities: "Submittit cui tota suos Hispania fasces" (perhaps meaning that the relics of the war in Cantabria were placed in this town)
Merida took as arms the reverse of a medal
struck under Augustus to commemorate its erection into a Roman colony; it is a gate of a town
formed by two arches accompanied by two
towers, one on each side, with a sort of semicircular enclosure, which extends from one to
the other. Laborde
Thirty-six different coins were struck here. The common reverse is a turreted gate, with the words "Augusta Emerita" which constitute the city arms. (..) In vain did Florida Blanca (Prime Minister in 1777-1792) employ a Portuguese, one Manuel Villena, to excavate the town: the thing dropped, and nothing was done, for Charles III, although the excavator of Pompeii, when king of Spain, caught the apathetic influence of the climate. (..) There is perhaps but a day's work here for ordinary tourists, but antiquarians and architects may halt much longer. Ford
The modern city of Mérida has been built on top of Emerita; yet, archaeological remains are well preserved and still evidence the Roman city. UNESCO
The centre of modern Medina stands exactly above that of the old town; almost every time an old building is pulled down and the site is excavated for laying the foundations of a new one, archaeologists are called in to check the importance of the ancient remains which have been discovered. In some instances, e.g. at Moreria, an archaeological area is created under the new building; in other cases large windows are opened at the street level to allow passers-by to see fragments of mosaics and frescoes of Roman houses. Today there are more than thirty archaeological sites in the town or in its immediate proximity.
The arch of Santiago, of vast size, 44
ft. high, built in the town by Trajan is
now a mere shell, having been stripped
of its marble casing. Ford
The arch was most likely built at the time of Emperor Tiberius as a monumental entrance to the Provincial Forum, i.e. the forum which housed tribunals and other public buildings which were related to the role of Merida as the capital of Lusitania, a province created by Emperor Augustus. Also Cordoba and Tarragona, the capitals of the other two Roman provinces in the Iberian peninsula had provincial forums. In the past the arch was named after a nearby hermitage dedicated to Santiago (St. James the Apostle).
(left-above and right) Views of the Provincial Forum showing evidence of the podium of a temple; (left-below) inscription "CONCORD(IAE) AUGUSTI" which was found in this area and was utilized for the Obelisk of Santa Eulalia
Excavations near the Arch of Trajan in 1983 led to the identification of the podium of a temple. It was most likely built at the time of Emperor Tiberius in ca 30 AD and it was very similar to the almost entirely lost temple by the same name in the Forum of Rome. The purpose of the building was to house ceremonies aimed at stressing the loyalty of Merida to Rome and to the imperial family and to celebrate Pax Augusta, a period of peace in the last years of Augustus' rule.
It is now one of the poorest and most neglected towns of the Spanish monarchy. Every
thing here still bespeaks its past grandeur;
every thing announces the power of its ancient
masters; we cannot proceed a step without
walking on the remains of some monuments, or
without perceiving on all sides the deplorable
vestiges of its ancient splendour. Laborde
The Casa de los Corbos is constructed out of a temple dedicated to Diana: it was peripteral, with fluted granite pillars and Corinthian capitals; the interstices have been built in; the best view is from the garden. The granite of Estremadura is perishable: thus the angles are worn away like half-melted lumps of sugar, while the brick remains perfect. The modern house is also much dilapidated: thus all is going to a common ruin. The absentee lord consigns it to the neglect of an unjust steward, who occupies a few rooms, as a mean insect creeps into the untenanted shell of the larger animal. Ford
Temple to Diana: (left) front; (right) detail of an 1820 engraving at Museo Nacional de Arte Romano
Many ancient temples have survived because they were turned into buildings having another use, not necessarily churches (e.g. Tempio di Adriano in Rome). The 1820 engraving shows the temple as it appeared to Ford without the upper part of the front and with some small buildings which impaired the view of the original structures. Palacio del Conde de los Corbos had a high tower which has been demolished.
Palacio del Conde de los Corbos: (left) medieval capitals in the ground floor portico; (right) window of the upper floor on the eastern side
The palace was built in the XVIth century at a time when interest for the ancient monuments spread into the upper classes of the Spanish society. Some ancient columns of the temple did not have a purpose in the layout of the building, yet they were not pulled down. The palace most likely incorporated a previous medieval structure. In 1972 it was decided to entirely pull it down, but eventually authorities chose to retain some parts of the building for their artistic and historical importance. In a way this is what occurred at Tempio di Antonino e Faustina in Rome where some of the XVIIth century additions were not removed.
Temple to Diana: overall view
The temple was built very near the junction between the two main streets soon after the foundation of the town. Its traditional dedication to Diana is not based on sound evidence and today archaeologists support the opinion that it was dedicated to Rome and Augustus, as those at Athens and Ancyra (Ankara).
The temple stood at the centre of a large square which was part of the Municipal Forum. Archaeologists have found evidence of a podium for making public announcements and of two fountains. A temple to Mars stood in the proximity of that to Diana; some of its decorations were utilized for a church dedicated to Saint Eulalia.
The Forum was near the convent of
Descalzos; the area and some shafts
of columns only remain, for this huge
convent was erected at the expense of
antique remains. Ford
Roman forums had large open squares, but also porticoes where citizens could find shade in summer or shelter from rain in winter. A monumental portico stood at a short distance from the Temple to Diana. Its design was inspired by the exedrae of Foro di Augusto in Rome and its decoration, in particular the reliefs depicting heads of Jupiter Ammon, a horned deity with mixed Greek and Egyptian features, was similar to that of the Roman monument.
The image used as background for this page shows a detail of a statue from this forum, now at Museo Nacional de Arte Romano; it depicts the "mane" on the head of a bull.
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|