Merida lies in the center of Extremadura, one of Spain’s least populous, least visited regions. Regardless, Merida is an overlooked gem, reflecting the long and complicated cultural throes of the Iberian peninsula.
Before it was ruled by the modern Spaniards, it was ruled by the Moors, who constructed a large alcazar around 700 AD to protect themselves from the rebellious, mostly Christian denizens. Before the Moors lost power, over 700 years before the city was an important outpost in the Roman empire. In 15 BC an enormous Roman amphitheater, for which the city is known, was built. The town flourished for a while, but by the year 400 the empire was crumbling, its influence waning, and the population of its exterior—of which Spain was a vital part—in precipitous decline. The marks of Roman influence remain an integral component of the town, as well as an important dynamo for its tourist industry.
Merida today houses about 60,000 people. Like most provincial Spanish towns, its extremely compact, walkable, open and friendly. Under the orange and palm trees you can sip a cafe in the plaza and watch the people (mostly families in this small town), go about their business in front of all the world. And like every Spanish town, no matter if they’re full of families or students, things pick up after dark falls and hardly anybody is awake at 10 am. on a Saturday morning.
Here are some photographs I took of Merida. I stopped on my way to Lisbon and stayed in a quiet, unspectacular, rinky-dink hotel called the “Hostal Bueno”. It cost me little, kept me near the action and provided me a place to rest my head when it was far past my bedtime.