Merida Roman Theatre - History and Facts | History Hit

Merida Roman Theatre

Merida, Extremadura, Spain

The Merida Roman Theatre is a well-preserved first century BC structure and a UNESCO site.

Peta Stamper

17 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Merida Roman Theatre

The Merida Roman Theatre or “Teatro Romano” is one of the most impressive of the ruins of this former colony of the Roman Empire. Together, these ruins, which include Guadiana Bridge and Merida Amphitheatre, form the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida.

Constructed in approximately 15-16 BC, the Merida Roman Theatre would have been one of many public buildings erected in the area. At the time, Merida was known as Emerita Augusta and was the capital of Roman Lusitania.

Now partially reconstructed, the Merida Roman Theatre is extremely well preserved and features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Spain.

Merida Roman Theatre history

The consul Vipsanius Agrippa (son-in-law of Augustus) promoted the construction of a theatre in Emerita Augusta as it became Lusitania’s provincial capital. Built between 16 and 15 BC, the theatre was constructed against the slope of a hill to lower the cost of stonework. The rest of the structure was made of concrete and lined with ashlar masonry work.

While theatre was not the most popular Roman past-time, a city of prestige demanded a theatre and the Merida’s was built to reflect this, boasting a capacity for 6,000 spectators. The theatre was later renovated, gaining a marble floor for the orchestra (where the choir usually sat). The stage was originally made of wood, underneath which all the theatrical rigging was hidden.

Behind the stage stood the scenae frons, lined with marble columns and topped with statues of deified emperors and gods, primarily the seated statue of Ceres or Livia, Augustus’ wife. Within this backdrop were entrances for actors and behind lay tranquil gardens.

The upper grandstand or summa cavea was the only area emerging before the full excavations of 1910, gaining the site the name of the ‘Seven Chairs’. Excavations had limited resources and methodology, which delayed the full reconstruction until the late 1990s but did not stop the theatre from staging a production in 1933.

Merida Roman Theatre today

Today, beside being Merida’s most visited monument, the Roman Theatre is home to the development of the Festival de Merida – the oldest classical theatre festival celebrated in Spain. The semi-circular walls are intact and the back wall of the stage or scenae frons with its double-tiered columns has been beautifully restored.

Head to the visitor centre for a map and tickets: a standard ticket will gain you entry to several of the city’s ancient sites, including the amphitheatre next door. Merida’s Roman Theatre is a true treasure and will not fail to transport you back to ancient Lusitania when actors would perform before imperial figures and eager locals in the stands.

Getting to Merida Roman Theatre

If driving, you can park on the street outside and, because Merida is very small, can walk to all of the Roman ruins following the red signs. Otherwise, Merida’s train station is only a 15 minute walk away and serves the Intercity, MD and REG.EXP lines. The train to Madrid takes 5 hour and costs around 40€ while from Seville the train takes 3 hours and costs 20€.

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