The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited. Eighth in the competition was the Roman Theatre at Mérida in Extremadura.
Extremadura is considered to be the traditional boundary between Moorish and Christian Spain and Mérida itself has previously passed between Christian, Moorish, and even Portuguese control. Because of its rich and varied history it was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1993.
On our visit to the city we walked first along a busy main road towards the crimson and saffron coloured Plaza de Torres where tattered bull fight advertising posters were peeling from the pot-marked walls and near here was our first excavation to visit. We bought an all sites pass for €12 each which seemed like a good deal and went inside to see the remains of a house that had been the home and office of an important Roman citizen in the first century A.D. and after that we visited an adjacent ancient Roman burial site and cemetery.
It was getting hot as we made our way to one of the main attractions, the amphitheatre and theatre and as we walked we were aware of hundreds of school children arriving in buses, far too many for this to be a normal school trip occasion and we wondered what they were all doing here. We found the entrance to the site and all was revealed because today, and all week, there was a production of the Greco-Latin Youth Festival Theatre which meant that the theatre was in use and access was restricted. I was annoyed about that and wondered just how restricted?
We went first to the amphitheatre which was completed in 8 B.C. and was able to seat up to fifteen thousand spectators within the elliptical stadium. The previous month we had visited the amphitheatre at Pula which accommodated twenty-thousand spectators but this seemed just as huge. It wasn’t in such good shape however because a lot of it has been subsequently dismantled for alternative building projects, some of it as far away as Cordoba in the east.
Mérida was the capital city of the most westerly Roman Province of Lusitania so this was an important place and the amphitheatre here would have been on the main gladiatorial and events circuit of the Empire and it continued to be used for this purpose until the fourth century. Today, on account of its past, Mérida is a sister city of Rome.
The site was beginning to fill up now with chattering school children and the volume levels inside the Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano) were beginning to build so we left the amphitheatre and walked the short distance to the theatre next door. Two thousand years ago this would have been a massive entertainment centre for the city and today we were going to see it being used once more for its original purpose.
Although we couldn’t get down close to the stage area and the columns and the statues and the central seating area was full of excitable school children we could make our way around the upper circle and visitors were invited to stay awhile and watch the production. We sat and watched for about half an hour but it was a three hour show and struggling with interpretation we finally left and moved on.
And next I have to move on straight to number ten in the competition and leave out number nine because I have never visited the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia and to be honest – probably never will!