The reason that Mérida has so many Roman antiquities is that it was a very important city in the Empire. The Roman conquest started as early as year 19 B.C. with the invasion of the Carthaginian region and ended with the last resistance in the northwest in the same year. The south soon came under the Roman Empire’s growing domination with a framework of roads connecting towns and strategic bridges and Iberian cities including Mérida, Cordoba, Seville and Cartagena passed into the hands of the Romans.
The economy flourished under Roman rule and, along with North Africa, served as a bread basket for the Roman market, and, as well as grain, it provided gold, wool, olive oil, and wine. Agricultural production increased with the introduction of irrigation projects, some of which remain in use even today and much of daily life consisted of agricultural work under which the region flourished, especially the cultivation of grapes and olives. Silver mining within the Guadalquivir River valley became an integral part of Iberian society and some of the Empire’s most important metal resources were in Hispania where gold, iron, tin, copper and lead were also all mined in abundance and shipped back to Rome.
Spain also has historical and political significance for the Roman Empire because it was the birthplace of the Emperors Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Trajan, Theodosius I and the philosopher Seneca and in the year 306, Spanish bishops were the heads of the Council at Elivira. Luckily, when the Roman Empire fell, it didn’t create such a major crisis or havoc in Spain as it did in other western countries like Gaul, Germany and Britain and thus much of its essential infrastructure remained intact.
Next to the river there were some excavations but to be honest we found these a bit disappointing so we hurried through them and walked to the river and walked along a pedestrian walkway back to the Roman bridge and then back towards the main square. We were looking now for the Temple of Diana and we found it tucked away behind the main shopping street and next to a small museum. The Temple was a sacred site constructed by the Romans in the first century A.D. and remains well preserved mostly because in the sixteenth century some local big-wig built a palace inside the rectangular ring of Corinthian columns. There has been some recent debate about removing the palace structure but as this is over five-hundred years old as well the archaeologists and the authorities have decided that it should stay.
We were over an hour ahead of schedule so we had a last drink in the main square while we waited for the car to be returned from the out of town car park and when it was there we went back to the hotel and checked out.
Our plan now was to visit the town of Trujillo that we had missed two days ago because of changes to our itinerary on our way to Cáceres and after we had stopped for fuel we drove north skirting the Parque Naturel de Cornarvo but to be honest there was little to get excited about across the flat dusty plains of Extremadura as we drove the fifty kilometres or so towards our destination.