A long weekend away – Merida

in Features

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that we can’t travel abroad as we would like, but there are places nearby that are little gems and worth taking a long weekend away to explore. Grab your masks and sanitiser and set forth for a historical trip. 

Just over four hours away by car from Gibraltar is the city of Mérida, home to more Roman monuments than any other Spanish city, part of the Province of Badajoz and capital of the autonomous community of Extremadura.

Once capital of the Roman province of Lusitania,Méridais located on the Via de la Plata (Silver Route) and was named aUNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and is alsopart of the Archaeological-Ensemble Complex which means that it is allowed to serve as a learning ground that illustrates the evolution of a European city over a 2000 year period. 

Founded in 25 BC byAugustus Caesar, it was named Emerita Augustand was the place where emeritus soldiers discharged from the Roman army from two veteran legions of the Cantabrian Wars could retire to. No matter how many Roman ruins you have seen, you will marvel at the outstanding remains that are all situated within walking distance of one another. 

The streets in the old city centre are narrow and driving is difficult with many roads closed to traffic, so it is best to find somewhere to park and head for the sites on foot which are all within easy walking distance of each other. One tip is that it is worth buying a single ticket that will give you entry to all the monuments and museums.

Start at the 2,000 year old Puente Romano Bridgethat crosses the River Guadiana which is the longest surviving bridge from Roman timesthen visit the nearby Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress built in 835 AD later occupied by the Christians in 1230. It’s worth climbing up to the parapet of the outer walls for an impressive view over the river.  Take a stroll up towards the beautifulPlaza de España, definitely the place to be to watch the world go by in the early evening, and then stroll up to the complex that includes the Roman theatre and the majestically stunning 15,000-seat amphitheatre built in 8BC. On the way, take a detour to see the impressive Temple of Diana, a totally unexpected site to see that is set amidst a modern square. 

Trujillo was the next step on our trip, and arriving in the medieval town felt like stepping onto a film set. It is no surprise then that the Castle of Trujillo doubled for Casterly Rock in season 7 of the Game of Thrones television series. Although set on a 600m-high summit above the town, it is worth theshort steep climb from the main square to visit the ancient ruins and stroll around the ramparts for great views of the surrounding area. Back down in the Plaza Mayor there are plenty of cafes and restaurants in which to stop for a drink or a bite to eat. In the middle of the square, surrounded by baroque and Renaissance buildings, sits a bronzeequestrian statue of Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador conqueror of Peru. 

The third stop on our long weekend trip was a 30 minute drive away. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cáceres is an extraordinary blend of Roman, Moorish, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture, full of beautiful churches and dotted with statues. Wander around the winding maze of cobbled streets (flat shoes imperative) and make sure that you check out some of the numerous museums and the gothic Santa Maria Cathedral which dates back to the 13th century. In 1931 the Cathedral was declared an Artistic Heritage Monument and although small it is well worth a visit to see the intricately carved wooden altarpiece along with the Gothic crucifix figure of ‘Cristo Negro’, the Black Christ, which can be found in the Blazquez Chapel.

La Parte Antiguaof Cáceres is a walled town virtually untouched since the 1500s and where you will find the Museo de Cáceressituated in a 16th-century mansion, the basement of which houses an Arab cistern known as an Aljibe that still stores water. A visit to the Fine Arts collection, in the adjoining Casa de losCaballos behind the museum, reveals a surprising array of works by Picasso, Miró, Tàpies and El Greco.  There are plenty of specialty shops selling regional products, including the very delicious but extremely smelly award winning Virgen del Pradosheep’s milk cheese known as the ‘Torta del Casar’. 

This three day excursionwas the perfect short break if you feel that you need to escape and go off the beaten path for some rest, relaxation… and exercise in the form of walking!

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