Sunday, April 03, 2016

Roman holiday in western Spain

Cindy inside the Moorish fortress in Mérida. The Visigoths built on top of the Roman fort, and the Moors built on top of that. Then came the Catholic kings . . . .
From the northeast of Spain where we live, Pamplona, to the wilds of Extremadura in the southwest is about eight hours by train or by car. We wanted to visit Mérida, which was an important Roman city 2,000 years ago and has many of the best preserved buildings from that era anywhere.

Extremadura is also famous for its hams, which come from pigs that run free and feed on acorns (bellotas). In the supermarket, Iberian ham runs for about $20 a pound. But the special purebred black pigs raised on certain farms produce hams that fetch $500 a pound or so in Japan and England.



Think Ben Hur




During Roman times, people in what is now western Spain were crazy for horse racing -- cuadrigas, or four-horse chariots, were the Formula 1 of the time -- and the horses from that part of Spain were famous throughout the empire for their speed and endurance. Many of the best charioteers to compete in the Roman Colosseum came from this region.

The Circus Maximus in Mérida was not excavated until the 19th century. It's about a half mile long, so it is comparable in length to a harness racing track. It could seat about 30,000 people.