Extremadura: Places to Explore

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Mérida

Mérida has some of the most impressive Roman ruins in Iberia. Founded by the Romans in 25 BC on the banks of the Río Guadiana, the city is strategically situated at the junction of major Roman roads from León to Seville and Toledo to Lisbon. Then named Augusta Emerita, it quickly became the capital of the vast Roman province of Lusitania. A bishopric in Visigothic times, Mérida never regained the importance that it had under the Romans, and other than the Roman monuments, which pop up all over town, the city is rather plain.

The glass-and-steel bus station is in a modern district on the other side of the river from the town center. It commands a good view of the exceptionally long Roman bridge, which spans two forks of this sluggish river. On the farther bank is the Alcazaba fortress.

Some other Roman sites require a drive. Across the train tracks in a modern neighborhood is the circo (circus), where chariot races were held. Little remains of the grandstands, which seated 30,000, but the outline of the circus is clearly visible and impressive for its size: 1,312 feet long and 377 feet wide. Of the existing aqueduct remains, the most impressive is the Acueducto de los Milagros (Aqueduct of Miracles), north of the train station. It carried water from the Roman dam of Proserpina, which still stands, 5 km (3 miles) away.

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