The Roman Art Itinerary
At the beginning of the 2nd century BC, Roman colonists and troops from the Roman province of Baetica arrived in the present-day region of Extremadura, with the intention of annexing new areas of lands to the Republic of Rome.
With some difficulties and bloody struggles against “Vetones” (people from a Pre-Roman town of the ancient Lusitania) and lusitanians, where the famous Viriato stood out, in the middle of the second century, Rome got to expand its domains up to the northern areas of the river Tajo. As a result of this, a new province in Hispania was created in 25 BC, known by the name of LUSITANIA, whose capital city was Émerita Augusta , the present-day Mérida.
The large period of economic, military and cultural
setting-up of Rome in Lusitania, (we can not forget that most
of Extremadura was part of this province and the area from the
river Guadiana to the South belonged to Baetica) made it possible
that the historic-artistic legacy from this period was of such
large importance. Along this itinerary we will point out the most
outstanding of this legacy.
We will try that our route follows along the famous “Vía de la Plata”, which was a Roman road which linked the area of Itálica with the northern area of Astorga, passing through Emérita.
Theatres, amphitheatres, temples, bridges, aqueducts, dams, thermal baths, funeral monuments, roads and magnificent museums can be seen and visited along this tourist itinerary which covers from the south of Extremadura to Baños de Montemayor, which is the northern door to the neighbouring region of Castille and Leon.
Regina, near the present-day Casas de Reina, goes by the name of an important Roman centre of population in the South of Extremadura, a few kilometres from the N-630, whose layout almost agrees with the ancient layout of the aforementioned Vía de la Plata”, near the beautiful towns of LLerena and Azuaga in Badajoz.
In this centre of population some remains from an
ancient Roman town have been found. This Roman town was located
along the road which links the South area of Extremadura with
the Northern towns of Andalusia, proliferating the exploitation
of mines in its outskirts.
In Regina we can visit the remains of the Roman centre of population, and especially an interesting theatre , very well excavated and preserved; many of its finds are found in the Archaeological Museum in Badajoz and in the Provincial Museum of Roman Art in Mérida. Its construction dates back to the 1st century AD and it was probably abandoned in the 4th century AD, having a seating capacity of 1,000 people.
From Casa de Reina we will head for Zalamea de la
Serena, the Roman Iulipa, passing through Azuaga and Granja de
The road from Metellinum to Cordova would follow through Zalamea, in whose square we find a stately Dystilo , a Roman funeral monument in daily use in the Greek time and whose origin could be related to Syria, which is rich in these monuments. This funeral monument, made of granite, reaches a height of around 24 metres. It dates back to the 1st century AD, from the time “Flavia” .
Metellinum, the present-day Medellín, is situated along the route which takes us to Alange, passing through Quintana la Serena and Don Benito. The present-day Medellín was founded by the Roman Consul Q Cecilio Metelo, in the year 7 BC, during the period of struggles between this consul and Sertorius. This Roman mansion was the first one which existed on the road which linked Emérita (Mérida) with Caesar Augusta (Zaragoza). From this time, there are only some remains from its theatre, at the foot of the castle, built at the end of the 1st century AD.
There are not any vestiges from its large bridge, more than 400 metres, although it is believed that the ancient bridge was probably used for the construction of the present bridge, from the 16th century
From Medellín we will go to Alange following the C-432, a town which owns one of the best preserved Roman thermal baths in the Iberian Peninsula . Nowadays these thermal baths, which are considered a National Monument, are used by the Alange Spa. They are composed of two circular rooms of 10 metres high and over 11.5 in diameter, it is possible to visit both of them. 18 Kilometres away from Alange, we will find the capital city of Lusitania, Emérita Augusta. At present it is also the capital city of the Autonomous Region of Extremadura, Mérida.
Its role as the capital city of the Roman province has provided it with the construction of numerous monuments from this time, many of them are excellently recovered after years of excavations and restoration, as a result it was declared UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage.
During the month of July and the beginning of August,
the precincts of the Theatre and Amphitheatre are privileged places,
where the famous Festivals of Classical Theatre from Mérida
take place, with performances on the same stage on which Roman
plays were performed 2,000 years ago.
On the outskirts we can visit two interesting Roman hydraulic constructions, the Cornalvo Reservoir and the Dam at Proserpina, both of them are very well preserved. At that time they were used as reservoirs to supply water to the capital city of Lusitania.
The Roman Theatre is the most emblematic and most visited monument in the city. Its construction dates back to almost the same time as the founding of Emérita, it was opened between the years 15 and 16 BC. The theatre had a seating capacity of 6,000.
The Amphitheatre, which is next to the Theatre, was mainly used for gladiatorial combats, shows involving wild animals etc. It was opened in 8 BC and had the capacity to hold 14,000 spectators.
The House of the Amphitheatre was probably a Roman
mansion near the Amphitheatre, which dates back to the 3rd and
4th centuries. It owns an excellent mosaic of the goddess Venus
with Eros and another one with a scene of the grape harvest.
The National Museum of Roman Art, which is opposite the entrance to the Theatre and Amphitheatre , was opened in 1986, it was designed by the architect Rafael Moneo Vallés.
The educational nature of the National Museum of Roman Art is obvious on all the floors, with an inspired thematic layout and some graphic aids of great interest for the visitor. The ground floor is given over to the Roman public buildings and shows and the first floor to the Roman pottery.
The second floor is given over to the civic and provincial administration. The House of Mithraeum is near the Bullring, on the same site as where a Mithraic shrine could have been, which has given its present name to this ancient mansion from Roman times.
The House lays out around three patios with family rooms, business or industrial outbuildings or premises, gardens, a peristyle, thermal baths , etc. It is worth mentioning its plaster paintings and mosaics, the most remarkable of which is the “Cosmological Mosaic”, one of the most beautiful and interesting of those found in the west of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Circus or Hippodrome was built in the first century AD and had a capacity of 30,000 spectators, making it one of the biggest hippodromes in the Roman world. It was situated in an area outside the city and bordering on the Roman road of Cordova and Toledo and the “San Lázaro” or Oxtail Aqueduct. Its “spina” or central section measured 233 metres.
The “San Lázaro” or Oxtail Aqueduct
measured 1600 metres and was built in order to cross the floodwaters
and the valley of the river Albarregas and to convey the water
from the underground harnessing.
At the time of Constantine, after the “Peace of the Church”, the “Basilica de Santa Eulalia” was built. In this Christian church, which was declared a National Monument, the remains of Saint Eulalia may have been buried.
Outside the church, we find the famous “Hornito” built in honour of the martyr Saint Eulalia, using the remains of what had been a temple dedicated to the god Mars.
The “Milagros” Aqueduct was built in
order to transport water brought from the Proserpina reservoir
to the town. Its construction was carried out in two phases. Firstly,
in the time of Augustus, when the city was founded (at the end
of the first century) and secondly, in the third century. At present,
it measures over 830 metres in length and 25 metres in height.
Near this Aqueduct we can see the Roman Bridge over the River Albarregas, built in the time of Augustus in order to cross the river shortly before its confluence with the river Guadiana. It is 125 metres long. In the centre of Mérida we find the so-called Arch of Trajano , being 15 metres high and having a span of 9 metres.
In other times it was probably clad with marble and was situated in the “cardo máximo” of the town and it was most probably a gate to the provincial forum.
The Temple of Diana was dedicated to the Imperial cult; it was built at the turn of the first century BC and at the beginning of the following century. Its structure was used to build the Renaissance-style Palace of the Count of “los Cobos” in the 16th century.
The Roman bridge located over the river Guadiana , it is 729 metres long and it has 60 arches. This bridge was built around the year 25 BC when the city was founded.
In the Cornalvo Reservoir, which is 16 kilometres from Mérida; we can see the very-well preserved dam, the tower that controls the outflows of water and part of the water conduits that brought water from this reservoir to the capital city of Lusitania, Emérita. It was built at the same time as Emérita .
In the Roman Dam at Proserpina Reservoir, which
is 5 kilometres from the city, the dam of the Roman reservoir
is still preserved.
This reservoir also supplied the Roman city of Emérita with water .
The Roman monuments the “Portico of the Forum” and the Archaeological Site of “Moreria”, Next to the Roman “Columbarios” (cemetery) of the “Voconios” and “Julios” families, are also interesting to visit.
Badajoz, 60 kilometres from Mérida, owns
an exemplary and educational Provincial Museum of Archaeology
In one of its rooms we will find numerous and important archaeological finds from the Roman time, discovered in some towns from Badajoz, where the Roman culture left its traces.
Along the N-630 and following part of the ancient
“Vía de la Plata” layout we will arrive in
Norba Caesarina, the present-day Cáceres, which is 70 kilometres
from Mérida. Nearby Q. Cecilio Metello founded Castra Caecilia
in 75 BC, which gave shelter to his soldiers. Nowadays we can
still see some remains of its layout on the road which links Cáceres
with Torrejón el Rubio, in the place known as Cáceres
In Norba Caesarina, founded in 25 BC by Lucio Cornelio Balbo, a Roman consul, we can still admire some stretches of the ramparts from that time . Its Provincial Archaeological Museum harbours some excellent archaeological collections of the most interesting finds from that time, at provincial level. In its entrance we can admire the “Genio de la Colonia” (The Spirit of the Colony), badly called Goddess Ceres.
From Cáceres, on the N-521, we now head for Alcantara, passing through Malpartida de Cáceres, Aliseda and Brozas.
In Alcántara and over the river Tajo, called Tagus Aurifer by Roman people, we can see the stately Roman bridge , which joined the Roman Cáceres to the northern Portuguese area, the region called Beira Alta.
It measures almost 59 metres in height and 194 in length, with 6 arches. Its construction dates back to 102 and 104 AD, although recently it is said that it was built in 75 AD.
Over the bridge, which has been rebuilt several
times, there is an honorific arch dedicated to the Emperor Trajano.
We can see the same dedication on the small temple raised in the
main entrance to the bridge, it is made of stone. On the dedication
we can read that its builder was Gaius Iulius Lacer.
Being, as it is, very-well preserved, it has a spectacular and admirable appearance. From Alcántara and passing through Mata de Alcántara, we will arrive in Garrovillas de Alconétar in order to take the N-630 again. A few kilometres away we will find the present-day location of the Alconétar Bridge , its ancient location was the confluence of the rivers Almonte and Tajo. The “Vía de la Plata” passed over the Roman bridge, which can be admired from the N-630.
It became 290 metres long with 16 arches. It dates from about the beginning of the second century, during the Empire of Trajano or perhaps Adriano.
Along our route towards the north and near the Alconétar Bridge we can take a detour which will take us to Coria, the Roman Caurium, where we can still see the ancient layout of its Roman ramparts . In the same town numerous vestiges and funeral steles have been discovered, examples of its Romanisation.
Near Navalmoral de la Mata we can see “in
situ”, in Bohonal de la Sierra, the remains of one of the
temples which was a part of the ancient Augustobriga (Talavera
la Vieja), nowadays it is under the waters of the Valdecañas
reservoir, or the peculiar steles embedded in the walls of some
houses in Casa de Belvís.
Passing through Plasencia, we turn our steps towards Guijo de Granadilla. Before reaching Guijo, after the detour on the N-630 and in the direction of the Grabiel y Galán Reservoir, we can admire two hydraulic works from the Roman time: the Roman Bridge of Caparra over the river Ambroz and on the banks of the Guijo reservoir, the present-day location of another bridge.
Some years ago, this one was situated in the path which linked Villar de Plasencia with Casar de Palomero, probably from the second century. Without doubt, the most interesting in this area is the remains of the Roman mansion of Capera, Cáparra, on the “Vía de la Plata”, according to Antonino’s itinerary. This ancient fortified town must be about 16 hectares in area; it was built in the Republican time and it is estimated that it lasted up to the third century.
The most outstanding of all its buildings is the majestic four-sided Arch of caparra, with four pillars and many more round arches, whith an interior stone groin vault. After some restoration works, nowadays it is very well preserved.
We return to he N-630 which will take us to the
last town of the Ambroz Valley;we mean Baños de Montemayor,
where we can still know, the ancient roman thermal baths, which
have been uses to build one of the most modern Spas in Europe.
The votive stones are preserved in this new Spa, wich come from
the area where the spring of thermal water is located, with a
circular shape and covered by a main dome.
Casas de Reina
Zalamea de La Serena
Baños de Montemayor