Wow - I'm so behind on this trip blog post-Morocco, I don't know where to begin. I blame a combo of feeling pretty unwell for a week or so, and English channels on Portuguese TV, so once out of the swing, it's hard to start again. Add to that, l have about 1000 images to upload!I guess I'll start by writing up today's activities, then eventually get round to backfill more on Marrakech, the Atlas mountains, Sahara, Fes, Seville, The Algarve, Selema, Lisbon, Sintra and Nazare. Whew - work to do.
We've been so lucky with the weather - today back in Merida, Spain was literally the first day we had to cope with some rain in 2 months of travelling. We got in the biggest tourist sites before the serious rain hit this afternoon though. Merida was originally started when Roman Emperor Octavio Augusto decided to accommodate ex-legionnaires/war veterans who needed a place to retire in Iberia in 25 BC. It became the centre of one of the 3 regions of Roman Hispania. Some great Roman sites here have been restored by archeologists (starting in 1910).
We first went to the Roman amphitheatre which inscriptions indicate was built in 8 BC. It's surprising how much its structure resembles today's sporting stadiums. It seated 16,000 and you can imagine folks cheering on gladiators fighting each other and wild animals. Displays showed that there were 15 different flavours/styles of gladiators here. Some used light armour and weapons to free their movement during battle, others had heavy coverings and shields at the expense of mobility. I know I'd have been in the latter camp. My pics show last nights rains pooling in the centre, but in the day they had a raised wooden floor in the centre of the stadium. Apparently there were several referees, and music breaks between the various fights. There was even a sponsors/patrons box in the centre for VIPs. Slaves and poor people sat in the upper decks.
Next door there is a traditional Roman theatre built in 16 BC with a seating capacity for 6000. It had a beautiful stage, an orchestra and seating arranged by status. Senators and magistrates on lower levels, various rankings of Roman citizens in the middle, slaves and the poor higher up, and women on the top level. Harumpf - women were allowed to sit with men next door to watch the gladiators fight. They put on Greek plays, pantomimes, and held other political and community events there. They still put on concerts here in the summer - I'd love to return one day to take in a performance in this venue.
When the rain seriously hit, we went into the National Museum of Roman Art. Many of the original sculptures and mosaics found during excavations are housed there - so impressive that they've survived 2000+ years.
There is also a well-preserved Roman Circus here - site of many chariot races. The rain came down and we got drenched walking to it. So back to our hotel - the Merida Parador. Paradors are govt-owned hotels in Spain built in old monasteries, castles, etc. They are usually quite expensive, so this is our first one, as I found it for half price on Last Minute.com. It started out as something Roman, and turned into some kind of convent/lunatic asylum in later years. You can see it was probably quite grandiose at one time, but everything's pretty shabby today. The hair dryer has an-old fashion hose, and wouldn't dry my hair in an hour of blowing. Glad I got the room cheap!
We'll check out the Roman bridge and a few sites in the morning before heading down to the White Hills of southern Spain to stay at Ronda.