Some 70km to the south of Cáceres on the N630, the former capital of the Roman province of Lusitania, MÉRIDA (the name is a corruption of Augusta Emerita), contains more Roman remains than any other city in Spain. Built on the site of a Celto-Iberian settlement and founded by Emperor Augustus in 25 BC as a home for retired legionaries, Mérida became the tenth city of the Roman Empire and the final stop on the Vía de la Plata, the Roman road that began in Astorga in northern Castile. The old city stretched as far as the modern bullring and Roman circus, covering only marginally less than the triangular area occupied by the modern town. Even for the most casually interested, the extent and variety of the remains here are compelling, with everything from engineering works to domestic villas, by way of cemeteries and places of worship, entertainment and culture. With a little imagination, and a trip to the wonderful modern museum, the Roman city is not difficult to evoke – which is just as well, for the modern city, in which the sites are scattered, is no great shakes.
Each July and August, the Roman theatre in Mérida hosts a theatre festival (festivaldemerida.es), including performances of classical Greek plays and Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies.