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Mérida (Municipality, Extremadura, Spain)

Last modified: 2020-10-24 by ivan sache
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Flag of Mérida - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 March 2020

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Presentation of Mérida

The municipality of Mérida (59,335 inhabitants in 2019; 86,560 ha; municipal website), located 50 km west of Badajoz and 70 km south of Cáceres, is the capital of Extremadura. The municipality is composed of the town of Mérida and of the villages of Campomanes (17 inh.), Carrión (14 inh.), El Prado (5 inh.), El Vivero (139 inh.), Estación de Aljucén (8 inh.), Estación de El Carrascalejo (4 inh.), Miralrio (93 inh.), Proserpina (227 inh.), Psiquiátrico (103 inh.) and Virgen de la Luz (28 inh.).

Mérida was established as Emerita Augusta by Emperor August in 25 BC to house war veterans from the Cantabrian Wars (Legions V Alaudae and X Gemina). Surrounded by a wall, the town included several public monuments, such as a theater, a circus, forums, temples, baths.... The bridge spanning over river Guadiana, one of the biggest in the Empire, highlights the strategic location of the town.
In the 4th-5th centuries, Mérida was the capital of the Visigoth kingdom, the power being indeed exerted by the archbishop of the town. The most powerful prelate in Iberia until the early Middle Ages, the archbishop of Mérida ruled twelve dioceses.

The early Moorish rulers maintained the big towns, Mérida and Córdoba, as centers of power. Subsequently, the Caliph of Córdoba cared much less of Mérida and favored towns newly built by colonists from Mérida, for instance, Batalhús (Badajoz).
After the Christian reconquest of the area in 1230, Mérida was not re-established as the see of a diocese but only as the capital of a province ruled by the Order of Saint James. In spite of being crossed by royalties and nobles heading to Portugal, Mérida remained a secondary town in the new Spanish state.
Mérida regained its past significance only in the 19th century after the inauguration of the railway station.

The Archeological Ensemble of Mérida was inscribed in 1993 on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, located in Extremadura, Spain, has its origins in the year 25 BC, when Augustus completed the conquest of the North of Hispania and founded the Colony of Augusta Emerita. 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 - and under the Arabic dominion, Mérida was one of the three border capitals of Al-Andalus, together with Toledo and Zaragoza, ensuring control of the western part of the Iberian peninsula.
The modern city of Mérida has been built on top of Emerita; yet, archaeological remains are well preserved and still evidence the Roman city. The 22 component parts of the property comprise an area of 31 ha. These include buildings for entertainment (theatre and amphitheatre), public architecture of the Forum and other spaces of power (provincial forum), engineering works (bridges, the dyke, cutwater and clean and waste water systems), and religious buildings, such as the Temple of Diana or the Temple of Marte. The property also includes excellent examples of private architecture, such as the Casa del Anfiteatro, La Casa Basílica, or Casa del Mitreo, which represent daily life. Most of the elements are located within the walled area of the Roman colony, but some are found outside its walls, such as the dams, aqueducts or thermal baths of Alange, in a natural environment and a landscape that has remained comparable to the one of Roman times.
Mérida is an excellent example of a provincial Roman capital during the empire and in the subsequent years. Its historic development is evidenced until today in its street pattern and many constructions still have their original function (bridge, dyke, Arch of Trajano, dams, sewers, Aqueduct of San Lázaro, etc.) or have been rehabilitated for modern use, such as the Circus or Theatre, whose classical theatre festival dates back to the 1930s. The buildings for leisure form an outstanding ensemble with the amphitheatre, theatre, landscaped peristyle and circus. The aqueducts and other water management elements, in an excellent state of conservation, are recognised as being among the best examples from the Roman era. In addition, the historical evolution can be traced in representative buildings of other important periods of history, such as the reinforced walls of the Visigoth era, the Paleo-Christian basilicas of Santa Eulalia and Casa Herrera or Santa Lucia del Trampal, and the Alcazaba (fortress) and its outstanding aljibe (tank) from the Muslim era.

Ivan Sache, 16 March 2020

Flag of Mérida

The flag of Mérida (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) is a banner of the municipal arms, a red shield with the golden Roman gate of the town chrged with the black letters "AUGUSTA EMERITA".

Nothing has remained from the Roman gate of the town, which was destroyed in 835 by Abderrahman II. It is, however, widely represented on coins (images, photo) minted in Emerita Augusta during the reigns of August and Tiber, which were used as the model for the design of the coat of arms.
The gate is of the Porta Gemina (Twin Gate) style. The right opening was used to enter the town, while the left opening was used to leave the town. Each opening was c. 3.70 m in height. The building was flanked by two towers.

Ivan Sache, 16 March 2020