In all of our explorations, Merida has been the destination to most exceed my expectations. Merida, capital of the Extremadura region, is home to the largest collection of Roman ruins in all of Spain, and people are regularly impressed by the structures that still remain. Yet, I just wasn’t too excited to visit. I know, I know; it’s very impressive to walk through a building that was built thousands of years ago. But, the Romans had a distinctive style, and it’s just not one I feel like I need to see on repeat.
With that said, our path from Higuera de la Sierra to Caceres took us right by Merida, and it seemed silly not to stop. Finding free street parking – literally right outside the Roman Theater – couldn’t have been easier. Between the car and the entrance, we walked right by a decent playground where the kids took a pre-lunch stretch. For food, we wandered about five minutes down the road to La Dehesa de Castuo, which I discovered reading the awesome blog, Spanish Sabores. For a very reasonable sum, we ordered two plates of toasts covered in regional toppings (think cheeses, jamones, and lomo sausages). There was also another small playground out in front.
After lunch, we walked back to the ticket office for the Roman Theater and Amphitheater. While other Roman ruins exist throughout the city, we decided to focus on these co-located gems. There is no map or audio guide for your visit, but a set foot trail with signs throughout the complex. We first encountered the Amphitheater, which is still quite impressive, despite being built in 8 BC. According to the official website, the amphitheater could house an astonishing fifteen and sixteen thousand spectators, all there is watch popular gladiator games.
Just past the Amphitheater is the Theater, built between 15 to 16 BC, and capable of seating 6,000 spectators. Each theater goer had his place in the stands based on rank, and our little soldier-in-training loved sitting in the same spot as the ancient knights who could sit in the seats behind the senators, inscribed E.X.D. And that is when it hits you that this stuff is old, and just how impressive it is to sit beside an inscription in stone that has seen so much time pass.
Perhaps part of the reason I was so hesitant to make it to Merida was that I just couldn’t imagine our kids enjoying it. And while there is no way they could fathom just how old everything was, they ate it all up. They were so engaged, so inspired, and just so fun to watch. You never know what will capture the imaginations of the young set, but I suppose massive structures built for the sake of drama makes sense.
At the end of the three hours, we had fed our bodies and imaginations and stretched our legs. We didn’t push ourselves but had specific goals in mind that we thoroughly enjoyed checking off. Merida was a big success.