Mérida earned a spot on my "must-see Spain" list almost as soon as I learned that the town has Roman ruins in it. And there's not just a wall or two from an old temple, there are serious remains from over two centuries ago - Mérida was founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC and they left behind an aqueduct, a circus, a theater, a temple, and a bridge...this town was a big deal to the Romans, and as a result, it has more ancient monuments than any other Spanish city.
We began our visit to Mérida with a walk around the Acueducto de los Milagros, one of three that originally stood in the town. There's not as much left of it as other aqueducts that we've visited, but to be fair, we've seen two of the best (the Pont du Gard in southern France and aqueduct in Segovia just north of Madrid) - at least two of the best preserved.
D - One cool thing about this trip that I just forgot about until now was all the storks that we saw! They were all over the place! They love to build their massive nests in high places, and there were dozens on the remains of the aqueduct. I don't know, maybe storks are normal for other people, but I think they're really cool, especially when you can see them carrying babies in handkerchiefs (which admittedly is much rarer)!
Next we visited the Circus Maximus...but we really shouldn't have. I hear that it's one of the best preserved Roman circuses (in the world!), but honestly, there's not much to see. Once a place for 30,000 people to watch chariot races, now it's truly just ruins, and the adjoining museum is so lackluster that it was difficult to imagine how splendid the building was when it was completed in 20 BC.
D - Probably better off watching Ben-Hur. I mean, don't get me wrong, the circus would be really cool if I was just walking around in the wilderness and discovered it myself, but it just doesn't feel as cool when you pay 10 euros or whatever for it. Maybe we just really don't have an appreciation for ancient Roman ruins.
We felt a little unimpressed after the circus (I suppose we've been a bit spoiled with quality Roman ruins over the years...), but it was just the beginning, really. We stopped at the amphitheater next, built in 8 BC as a venue for gladiatorial fights, either between men and wild beasts or between two wild beasts. It's located just a stone's throw away from the town's Roman theater, and the story goes that the amphitheater was much more popular than it's neighbor.
Mérida's Roman theater was built just a few years after its amphitheater, but it seems to be the best preserved of all the sites. In all likelihood, this is because of heavy restoration throughout the years, but in any case, it is a beautiful and impressive place that is still used for annual festivals, although it now holds about half of the spectators it did in its heyday.
Next we saw something from a totally different time period and very different builders: the Alcazaba. Back in the 9th century when it was built, the Alcazaba was a Muslim fort, one of many similar such fortresses built throughout Spain and Portugal during Moorish rule. Like the circus, this was another place that we certainly could've passed on visiting, but we had bought a ticket that allowed us entrance to many sites in town, including this one, so we figured, why not? (We did enjoy joining the locals and walking along the Guadiana River afterwards, though - going for walks in pretty places never really gets old!)
And finally, we stopped by the Roman Forum, and in particular, the Temple of Diana. These public spaces in Roman Mérida, like many other places we saw, were built during the 1st century AD. I'm sure some reconstruction has been done throughout the years, but still, it's pretty cool to walk through an otherwise ordinary-feeling Spanish town and come upon impressive Roman ruins. At least for us, it's not an everyday occurrence.
We had dinner at a pizza place boasting Roman remains under the floor, complete with glass tiles for viewing...but found that the glass was dirty and old, and we couldn't really see anything at all. Oh well. We spent the night at a mediocre Airbnb not far from the circus, leaving straightaway the next morning so we could finish up our trip in Trujillo and Guadalupe before returning our rental car in Madrid that evening.
See the rest of our long weekend trip - our first stop at the palace of La Granja, our day in Salamanca, and then our drive through the Jerte Valley and afternoon and evening in Plasencia. On the third full day, we visited Monfragüe National Park and Cáceres before finishing up in Mérida.