They are located in the current Margarita Xirgu Square, originally they were located inside the Roman city but in the periphery, next to the wall, taking into account the orientation of the two main routes of the city, the decumanus and the kardo, taking advantage of the slope of the San Albín hill for the construction of the stands. Roman Theater was built between 16th and 15th b.C. when he was consul Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus. As time went by it suffered several reforms and around year 105 A.D. the actual stage front was raised, being reformed again between years 333 and 335. Official introduction of Christianity at 4th century was one of the main reasons why the theatre stopped being used and fell in the abandonment and consequent ruin. What we can see and visit today is the result of the excavations that began in 1910. It had a capacity for six thousand people who were placed according to their social status in three different parts, ima, media and summa cavea, separated from each other by corridors and railings.
The stands were accessed by stairs distributed radially across the stands. At the closest area to the stage there was the orchestra, where the choir was placed, but undoubtedly the area that most attracts attention in the theater is the front of the stage, with two bodies of marble columns and a series of sculptures, Ceres, Pluto, Proserpine and other statues, some of them with togas and others with breastplates that could well be portraits of consuls and emperors. Behind the scenic front there is a garden area that, surrounded by columns and porticos, known as the peristyle, served for recreation and rest. Walking through this place one can see the Sacred Hall, a small sacred space with an altar table where the figure of the divine Augustus was honored. At the northern corner of the peristyle, elevated over the level of the garden, there are the latrines and at the west one can admire the remainings of the Theater House that was built after the theater fell into disuse. It is known as a basilica house because when it was excavated, when apses with windows in its walls were seen in some of its rooms, it was believed that it could have been part of a primitive Christian church.
The Amphitheatre was inaugurated in the year 8 B.C. It is separated from the Theatre by a roadway that surrounds the two buildings. It suffered the same abandonment as the latter and was even used as a quarry. As far as it could be seen from its moat and part of some stretch of aqueduct close to it, from centuries ago it was thought that it could have been a place where naval battles were simulated, and it was called naumaquia. The excavations of 1919 gave it back its idiosyncrasy. In an elliptical shape it has three monumental doors used by the organizers of the shows and the authorities, and another thirteen accesses destined to the public. The distribution of the stands was similar to that of the theatre, ima, media and summa cavea, lower, middle and upper, although today only the cavea ima and some sectors of the cavea media are well preserved. Unlike the theatre, in the amphitheatre men and women could sit together to watch the show and the upper tiers were for slaves, servants and the poor. It was built a little more simply than its neighbouring building, with part of the stands sitting on factory boxes filled with heavily rammed earth.
In the amphitheatre, gladiator and wild animal shows were popular and could be attended by up to sixteen thousand spectators. In the arena, there was a large moat covered with platforms that hid everything necessary for the show. On both sides of two long galleries, which gave access to the stands and to the entrance of the gladiators to the arena, there are some rooms that could have been used by the gladiators for their preparations and even some of them could have been dedicated to the goddess Nemesis who was the one to whom the gladiators were entrusted before the games. "To Nemesis, that I may go out with the same feet I came in with." According to what the gladiators fought, they were classified in different specialties, and were given different names: Hoplomachus, the one who fights with weapons, spear, short sword, helmet, shin guards and circular shield; Myrmillo, recognizable by the crest of his helmet, was protected by a large rectangular shield and never fought each other; the Traex, with weapons and light shield, their fights against myrmillons were very popular; the Dimachaerus, the one who fights with two knives; the Venator faced the beasts; the Retiarius, the Secutor... Sitting in the stands and trying to visualize the atmosphere, hearing the popular cry "lugula! verbera! missus!" is very easy in this environment.
There is a phrase by Ovid that says "To the theatre one goes to see and be seen no matter what verses are being performed". Few Romans understood the Greek language in which the play was performed and most of them liked mime and pantomime where gestures, music and dance were mixed. The plays were performed during the day and were paid for by the councillors, and were therefore free for anyone who wanted to attend. In the amphitheatre, the show was also free and took place in the afternoon. The music marked the development of the combats that began with a duel between two horsemen on horseback and then moved on to the combats of the gladiators themselves, where the usual rule was the existence of an arbiter who helped himself with a stick, if necessary, to enforce the rules of the games.
The Classical Theatre Festival of Merida masterfully combines culture, performance and antiquity. Its celebration takes place throughout the summer, from the beginning of July to the end of August, with an endless number of cultural events related to the festival and the setting in which it takes place. Its origin is due to the time when Margarita Xirgu played Medea in the version of Euripides' play in 1933. Today the great stage of the Roman Theatre hosts, in addition to classical plays, opera, ballet and classical music, always based on the Greco-Latin world, the basis of the festival.
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For centuries and before the excavations of 1910, the only thing visible in the theatre was the upper part of the stands, known as the "Summa Cavea", where seven large blocks of stone stood out. These were popularly known as the Seven Chairs and had their own legend, which says that on these seven thrones two Arab princes sat to decide the future and destiny of Augusta Emerita.
The A-66, or La Plata motorway, goes to Merida and connects it with Seville to the south and Caceres to the north. The A-5 also crosses Merida from east to west and from Madrid to the city and continues to connect it with Badajoz and Portugal. Of course, there are several local and regional roads that connect it with the different towns in its surroundings. Mérida has a bus station located at Libertad Avenue, 45, which is served by interurban lines with regional, national and international routes. The telephone number for further information is 924 371 404. In addition, the railway service connects it with Madrid, Lisbon, Seville, Badajoz, Cáceres or Ciudad Real, Plasencia, Talavera de la Reina, Don Benito, Villanueva de la Serena,... The Merida Station is located on the edge of the historical center, in Cardero Street, s/n. You can also arrive by plane, the closest airport to Merida is Badajoz.
You only have to follow the signs that you will find throughout the city, although it is better to park your vehicle in one of the car parks in the area and go on foot to the area that houses the theatre and the amphitheatre, as in addition to the pedestrian streets, it is not easy to find parking, especially on days when there are more visitors.
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