We opened the motorhome blinds in the morning to a bright and sunny Sunday morning and it was my turn to drive. We set off from Villa del Rio carrying on towards the city of Merida, the capital of Extremadura. The drive took us through scenic countryside along long, straight, smooth roads.. It was all going perfectly well until we took a wrong turn, coming off the main road and taking an unnecessary and as it turned out unwelcome accidental detour through the small village of Huevas de Duque. The road swiftly narrowed and before we had a chance to turn around we were squeezing through the cobbled back streets with no other option than to carry on. It was tight but do-able until we came to an ‘S’ bend in the road with a car parked on each corner. Wide enough for a small car but not for a 2.3m wide motorhome.
While Julian got out to assess the situation I realised we were attracting quite a bit of attention. Unfortunately for us we were alongside the main town plaza and being a Sunday the residents were out in force either attending church or going for their morning stroll. They all seemed rather too keen for some extra entertainment at our expense including one small boy who came right up to us with a big smirk across his face to get a good view. After a couple of minutes a man who’d noticed our predicament raced across the square pointing to the cars and a small bar the other side of us. Disappearing inside, he came back out with another man, the owner of one of the cars. Quite clearly not happy about having to abandon his beer at the bar he got in and inched forward just a couple of feet. Getting out and realising it wasn’t far enough he begrudgingly got back in again and nudged forward a little more. Locking his door and walking determinedly back to the bar it was clear he was not going to move any further! By now the crowds had gathered in small clusters, chattering and pointing. We should have charged for tickets. Nerves slightly jangled, we eased our way through and it was another couple of hundred metres when we could let out a sigh of relief as we saw the road open out and we could make our escape!
After that, I’m pleased to say that there were no more dramas. The drive was lovely, through mile after mile of olive groves, cork oaks with grazing cows and little black iberico pigs. As we made our way into Merida we arrived at our first possible parking place next to the San Lazaro Aqueduct, one of 3 in the city. It seemed a bit isolated and run down and we didn’t feel overly happy with it. We carried on to our next option which was much better and within view of the towering Los Milagros Adqueduct in a residential road with the river and park opposite. The weather has been quite changeable the last few days but right then it was good so we quickly parked up and decided to take the opportunity while it was dry to take a look at the Aqueduct. At 830 metres long and 25 metres high it looked quite magnificent and quite clearly a ‘des res’ for a number of storks who had made their giant nests on top of the arches.
They appeared to be sitting on eggs and taking turns to sit and bring food. We’d only been gone about 20 minutes though and the skies turned grey and it started pouring. Within minutes we were soaked to the skin again and making a hasty retreat back to Buzz.
In the morning it wasn’t looking too hopeful weather wise. Peering bleary eyed out of the van we were greeted with a blank grey sky and drizzle. Breakfast and showers later it was at least dry and we set off feeling optimistic. Merida may be a relatively small city but its wealth of historical monuments make it one not to miss. Its Roman theatre is one of the best preserved anywhere in the world and it comes back to life every summer when classical and modern dramas are performed on its stage. Originally it had a capacity for 6,000 people who would crowd in to be entertained with comedies and dramatic acts. Its ornate marble columns rise up quite majestically and the overall site is quite mesmerising and beautiful.
Alongside is the Roman amphitheatre, restored just in part so it’s easy to get a real feel for how it was. We felt the restoration works overall have been really well done, using the right materials and retaining the authenticity which is not always the case. we stood in the centre of the circle imagining the baying crowds above, up to 14,000 of them, and the fighters and wild animals in the ring battling for their lives.
By now the sun had shone through and it was time to take a break for lunch. With perfect timing we came across Spain Square, an attractive little plaza with a big central fountain surrounded by cafes. Picking the one with plenty of people at we ordered a beer and a glass of wine which at just 1.20 euros was the bargain of the week! A tasty little plate of potato and pepper tapas arrived with it which is always a nice surprise. Funny how something so small can put a smile on your face – simple pleasures. We were quite hungry so followed it up with a big baguette and then set off again.
There are many other ruins and historical landmarks dotted around the and you begin to realise why the whole city has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage. The elegant Temple of Diana sits on a 3m high podium which dates from the 1st century AD. It’s the only religious architectural preserved building in the town so quite important for that reason. It has been well restored to its current state but was well preserved and the granite columns were originally painted red.
As we wandered the streets we went through the ancient Arc de Trajano. At 15m high it is thought to have been a monumental door through to the provincial forum rather than a triumphant arch. The columns are made of granite and thought to have been covered in marble at one time.
While the sun was out we enjoyed a stroll along the Guadiana river and out over the Puento Romano (Roman bridge). Although its been restored several times, it still retains a lot of its original character and it spans the river with 60 arches at a total length of 792m. There’s a nice track along the water’s edge which would be a perfect spot for a picnic.
The entrance to the Moorish Citadel is at the end of the bridge and it was probably built in around 835 as a military precinct with a permanent garrison. The walls are 10m high and there are 25 towers around the perimeter. The highlight though is the Aljibe, containing a rainwater cistern, accessed down two steep slopes into its dark depths through a narrow stone doorway with ornate columns. We were surprised to see goldfish swimming around in there.
At the far end of the town we reached the Roman Circus which is one of the best preserved and largest in the entire Roman empire. With enough space for 30,000 spectators you could just imagine the cheers of the crowd, thunder of hooves, clouds of dust and clatter of carriages as they raced around the 400m x 30m arena. Some of the stands have been restored and show how they were separated into areas for different social classes. There’s an interpretation centre on site too where you can watch a video and learn about it more.
We also came across the old bullring which is brightly painted red and yellow and houses a selection of bars and cafes around its perimeter.
Aside from the historical monuments there are some atrractive little streets just on the fringes but once outside that it loses its charm. We did pass a bakery on the way out though with the biggest loaves of bread we’ve ever seen. They are laid on top of an open box and you can just tear off as much as you want if the whole loaf is too big which invariably it would be. Not sure what happens to all the torn off bits in the bottom of the box though!