Monday, 5 December 2011

Spain 2011, Mérida, World Heritage City (2)

After lunch and the shock of the bill it was time for a rest, the antiquities were all closed now for the siesta and wouldn’t open again for a couple of hours so we went back to the Mérida Palace. It was hot and the sun was shining so it our intention to sit on the sun terrace on the roof, read a book, have a glass of wine and do a bit of lazy sunbathing. For no good reason (as far as I could make out) the sun terrace was closed and when I enquired at reception the receptionist said that they were unable to open it because it was too early in the year and it wasn’t warm enough! I was perplexed by that, in England we will sit on beaches in May even though the temperature is just a fraction above zero!

Kim rested in the room and in search of sun I sat on the patio at the front of the hotel and sneaked a can of Mahou beer down from the room so that I didn’t have to pay the inflated hotel prices. Sitting across the road from the busy Plaza Mayor it was lovely in the sunshine and after a while Kim joined me and I sneaked some more alcohol to the table and discreetly disposed of the giveaway evidence by hiding the cans under the table.

It was nice just sitting and enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of the square but with the sun moving behind the hotel and throwing us into shadow it was time to resume our sightseeing and to use the rest of our entrance tickets. We walked towards the River Guadiana because our first destination was the original Roman bridge built over two thousand years ago.

At eight hundred and thirty kilometres long, the River Guadiana is the fourth longest in the Iberian Peninsula and for part of its course marks the boundary between Spain and Portugal. As we approached the river I was reminded of a previous experience on the Guardiana in 1986 when I was travelling from Portugal to Spain by car. These days a bridge takes the motorway straight across but for centuries before that the ferry link between Vila Real de Santo António in Portugal and Ayamonte in Spain was the only way to get across and we took the twenty minute, two kilometre journey between the two countries.

At this point the river is about eight hundred metres wide and spanning it is the sixty arch Roman bridge that remained the principal road for traffic entering the city until as recently as 1993. Mérida was proving to be a really fascinating place with the oldest this, the biggest that, the best preserved, the most unique and now was added the longest remaining Roman bridge. It is pedestrianised now and we walked away across towards the centre and looked over the sides into the muddy brown water of the river below.

We didn’t all the way across to the other side but stopped and returned to the east bank because next we were visiting the Alcazaba, a 9th century Muslim fortification located near the bridge that was built by Emir Abd ar-Rahman II of Córdoba in 835 to command the city. It was the first (here we go again) Muslim alcazaba, and includes a big squared line of walls, every side measuring one hundred and thirty metres in length, ten metres high, nearly three metres thick and incorporating twenty-five towers all built re-using Roman walls and Roman-Visigothic edifices in granite. We walked around the walls and visited the underground water cistern and around the dusty interior but we were tired now so declared this to be the last visit of the day to leave a remaining few for the next morning.

The Plaza Mayor was busy but quieter tonight mostly because there weren’t any football matches taking place but the fountain which had been dry the previous evening was now erupting with water and sending magnificent plumes high into the blue sky. We sat at the same table and had San Miguel and wine and olives and we reflected on a busy day of awesome sightseeing and some amazing places.

My foot was aching and although I was trying to disguise it from Kim I think the limping gave it away so I was secretly pleased when she kindly offered to walk the five hundred metres (my estimate) to a mini-market that we had spotted earlier to buy a bottle of wine for the room and when she was out of sight I ordered another beer and tried to massage my aching ankle. She returned after twenty minutes complaining that it was further than I had suggested but at least she had the wine so we went back to the hotel to get ready for evening meal.

The meal the previous evening had been satisfactory but we had no plans to return there because we had seen a little place around the corner from the hotel where there were some pavement tables where it was warm and sheltered enough to dine out in the street and we had a pleasant, simple and unhurried meal before returning to the Plaza Mayor for a final drink and summary of what had been an excellent day in a Spanish city, which only a few years ago I would never have remotely thought of visiting.

No comments: