1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mérida (Spain)

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18661551911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — Mérida (Spain)

MÉRIDA (anc. Augusta Emerita, capital of Lusitania), a town of western Spain, in the province of Badajoz, on the right bank of the river Guadiana, 30 m. E. of Badajoz. Pop. (1900), 11,168. Mérida is an important railway junction, for here the Madrid-Badajoz railway meets the lines from Seville, Huelva and Cáceres. No Spanish town is richer in Roman antiquities. Most of these are beyond the limits of modern Mérida, which is greatly inferior in area to the ancient city. Chief among them is the Roman bridge, constructed of granite under Trajan, or, according to some authorities, under Augustus, and restored by the Visigoths in 686 and by Philip III. in 1610. It comprised 81 arches, 17 of which were destroyed during the siege of Badajoz (1812), and measured 2575 ft. in length. There are a few remnants of Roman temples and of the colossal wall which encircled the city, besides a Roman triumphal arch, commonly called the Arco de Santiago, and a second Roman bridge, by which the road to Salamanca was carried across the small river Albarregas (Alba Regia). The Moorish alcázar or citadel was originally the chief Roman fort. From the Lago de Proserpina, or Charca de la Albuera, a large Roman reservoir, 3 m. north, water was conveyed to Mérida by an aqueduct, of which 37 enormous piers remain standing, with ten arches in three tiers built of brick and granite. The massive Roman theatre is in good preservation; there are also a few vestiges of an amphitheatre and of a circus which measured 485 yds. by 120. Other Roman remains are exhibited in the archaeological museum, and much Roman masonry is incorporated in the 16th century Mudéjar palace of the dukes of La Roca, the palace of the counts of Los Corbos, and the convent of Santa Eulalia, which is said by tradition to mark the spot where St Eulalia was martyred (c. 300).

Augusta Emerita was founded in 25 B.C. As the capital of Lusitania it soon became one of the most splendid cities in Iberia, and was large enough to contain a garrison of 90,000 men. Under the Visigoths it continued to prosper, and was made an archbishopric. Its fortifications included five castles and eighty-four gateways; but after a stubborn resistance it was stormed by the Moors in 713. Its Moorish governors frequently, and sometimes successfully, asserted their independence, but Mérida was never the capital of any large Moorish state. In 1129 its archbishopric was formally transferred to Santiago de Compostela, and in 1228, when Alphonso IX. of Leon expelled the Moors, Mérida was entrusted to the order of Santiago, in whose keeping it soon sank into decadence.