Merida, Extremadura Spain – Emerita Lvdica Roman Festival

From time immemorial – or since the 1st century AD, to be exact – the citizens of Merida have celebrated their Roman history at their annual Emerita Lvdica festival when they re-enact life in their city 2,000 years ago.

Merida sits halfway down the Via de la Plata (The Silver Road), and is the capital of the southern autonomous community of Extremadura. As my photos from this year’s event show, the festive sense of fun is all-pervading, with the whole town dressing up, displaying all manner of carnival costumes amidst the Old Town’s ancient Roman sites.

The region has a rich ancient Roman history, echoed by Ridley Scott’s film Gladiator two millennia later. The main character Aelius Maximus Meridas (Russell Crowe) is referred to as ‘The Spaniard’, and Meridas means ‘from Merida’.

Founded as a Roman colony in 25BC by Emperor Augustus, today’s Old City Archaeological Ensemble has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. It offers a magnificent backdrop to the Emerita Lvdica festival celebrations, which include gatherings, ceremonies, processions and displays at many sites, including the world’s longest existing Roman bridge of Guadiana, Temple of Diana, Amphitheatre, Theatre, Arch of Trajan, Baths, Residences and Tombs.

Wannabee emperors, centurions, gladiators, musicians and eager-to-please local Roman folk parade around, all enjoying the mother of all classical fancy-dress parties.

Merida itself is a dramatic destination at any time, but I do wholeheartedly recommend visiting during this festival. The sense of fun, across all ages, is infectious. Today’s population of 60,000 is not so different from that of Roman days when the Old Town had a population of 40,000, all celebrating ‘Nocho en Blanco’ (Sleepless Night), when both locals and visitors can tour the ancient monuments until the early morning hours.

Enhanced by the early summer sunshine, dry-heat daylight temperatures into the late 20s and clear sky nights, it must be one of the Iberian Peninsula’s most enjoyable late springtime jamborees.

In answer to Aelius Maximus’s famous quote in the film Gladiator ‘Are you not entertained?’ – you will be.

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