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Monuments Most Visited in Spain
In 2010, the Alhambra issued a press release that said that it was the monument most visited in Spain in 2009, with about 3 million visitors. It also said that the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona was next, and the third was the Prado Museum in Madrid. A report from 2008 showed the list of monuments most visited in 2007. However one can suppose that those monuments are still the most popular monuments today. So here is the list.
1. Alhambra Palace and Generalife Gardens in Granada
This is the most visited monument in Spain (3 million visitors a year) and is unforgettable and takes your breath away. The Nasrid Palace has beautiful tile work, stucco ceilings, the famous Court of the Lions, fountains, pools and gardens. The Carlos V Palace now contains the Bellas Artes Museum of Granada. The Generalife Gardens are among the most beautiful gardens in Spain.
The Alhambra is one of the most enchanting, fascinating and beautiful places to visit. One can go many times and be completely entertained and enthralled each time. One tip to enhance enjoyment is to hire the audio guides, which give excellent additional information.
On the way to the Nasrid Palace, one has to pass under the very impressive wine gate, a very large structure with Moorish architecture. It has a double façade of horseshoe arches. Apparently this gate inspired Debussy to write the “La Porte du Vin” music, although Debussy never visited Spain.
The Nasrid Palace
There is a very large patio before one enters the Mexuar, which was used as the reception salon and for the administration of justice. Everywhere one can see the elaborate tile work at the bottom of the walls, followed by the elaborate stucco work on the walls and the beehive stucco ceilings. On the walls are ornamental pious prayers in Arabic script. The arches above columns have stalactites. There are windows where one can see the gardens below the palace or one can see the city of Granada. Everywhere there are beautiful vistas.
There is also the Court of the Myrtles with its huge courtyard and pool. The tower of Comares is in the background and reflects in the pool. The Court of the Lions is huge and impressive. The original lion statues will be placed in the nearby Museo de Bellas Artes in the Carlos V Palace to preserve them, because they have suffered erosion through the years, being exposed to the rain in the open patio. Copies of the lion statues will be put in this court.
Another beautiful place are the gardens of the Partal, adjacent to the Torre de las Damas. There is a large reflecting pool adjacent to this structure. This building has beautiful arches over columns and inside, one has beautiful views of the city below. It is interesting to note that in all these gardens adjacent to the palace, there are many beautiful cats that are not scared of the crowds of people.
The Carlos V Palace
After the Nasrid Palace, one can visit the Carlos V Palace. It is a Renaissance building with a huge round patio in the middle, surrounded by two stories of galleries, ringed with columns. This building was constructed by the King Carlos V and is considered one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Spain. Inside are the Fine Arts Museum and the Alhambra Museum, both of which are closed on Mondays.
The Alhambra Museum is extremely interesting. This museum had one stone lion from the Court of the Lions, which has already been restored. The sides of the lion are asymmetrical, so when one sees it from one side, it looks different than when one sees it from the other side.
What is interesting is that it was traditionally believed that Islam forbade the representation of human and animal figures. While it is true that these depictions were not allowed in religious buildings and objects of worship, they do however appear in secular works. Figurative art in Al-Andalus flourished from the Omayyad period and the Caliphate to the Nasrid dynasty, when objects and living beings were commonly represented in private houses and palaces. Although initially decoration tended to show inanimate objects and use symbolic language, Islamic art gradually assimilated the customs and artistic styles of the conquered areas through the filter of its own particular aesthetics. Animal-shaped fountains are frequently found in Moorish palaces in Spain.
One of the most important exhibits is the Vase of the Gazelles. This vase is 1.5 meters high and is decorated with two shades of blue with a gold luster. It was probably manufactured in 1320. Ceramics with this metallic overglaze are called "loza dorada" (golden pottery). This vase is considered to be the greatest masterpiece of medieval Islamic ceramics in Spain. One article explained that it was made in Malaga. The National Archaeological Museum in Madrid has seven other vases of this type, but none can compete with the Vase of the Gazelles in beauty and artistry. The proportions and the decoration on this large jar are simply perfect. This jar and its brothers were the largest jars ever made in the Muslim world. They were exported from Malaga to the rest of the Muslim world. They were signs of luxury and power and were used to decorate palaces.
There is an artist from Granada called Miguel Ruiz, who has been able to duplicate the Vase of the Gazelles. He has visited the Middle East and measured the temperatures of the kilns there used for ceramic firing. Then by trial and error he learned how to reproduce this vase and the other vases found in Madrid.
The Generalife Gardens
The Generalife Gardens are probably the best known gardens in Spain. They are huge and one can enjoy walking through them. At the entrance, there is a large open air patio that is sloping to a stage, where concerts and other public performances are held. Everywhere in the gardens there are little fountains that splash water. The sound of running water was very soothing to the Moors and they engineered a system to bring large amounts of water from the Darro River upstream from the city of Granada to the Alhambra fortress, so that they could withstand sieges and also use the water in the palaces and gardens. The gardens are surrounded by a forest of trees, and one can see the channels where the water runs.
The gardens are very well tended by 35 professional gardeners and one can see them at work while one wanders through the gardens. There are many rose plants and other aromatic plants and shrubs because the Moors liked to have perfumed gardens, which are a delight to the senses. Many of one's senses are engaged in these beautiful gardens, the sense of sight, smell, and hearing. What is interesting is that the gardens are divided into smaller gardens by huge green hedges, which have cutouts so that one can see adjacent gardens. The Water Stairway is a series of round patios with hand rails that bring water in small channels. The patios and the hand rails with the water go downhill.
One needs at least an hour to see all of these gardens in the Generalife. One can spend much more time here taking pictures of everything. One can really appreciate what the Moors built here. The designs are all to human scale and there is pure genius in the designs. The human scale is probably what makes the palaces so beautiful and engaging. One can imagine how life would be if one lived in these palaces.
The Stone Lions of the Alhambra Palace
The Alhambra Palace has the Fountain of the Lions, which is now being restored. There were 12 lions that surrounded the fountain and the water would spew out of the mouths of the stone lions. The lions were removed and are in restoration and are being studied. Copies will be made of the lions and placed around the fountain, while the original lions will be placed in the Alhambra Museum.
The scholars studying the stone lions now know that they were sculpted between 1362 and 1391 during the reign of Muhamad V. The king ordered one sculpture built by an artist, and this was probably the biggest lion, because it has the most detailing. The other lions were built by other artists, trying to copy this lion, but all of the lions are different in details from each other. They were all made of marble from Macael. They were restored in the 17th century by Alonso de Mena. It is known that the lions were polychromed before that restoration.
The fountain is an ancient symbol that arrived in Granada from pre-Christian civilizations in the East. The lion spewing water from its mouth is the sun, which gives life to everything. The 12 suns of the fountain are the 12 suns of the zodiac, the 12 months of the year.
The Alhambra Museum displays one stone lion from the Fountain of the Lions, and this lion has already been restored. The sides of the lion are asymmetrical, so when one sees it from one side, it looks different when one sees it from the other side.
What is interesting is that today many Islamic communities forbid the representation of human and animal figures. During the Muslim era in Spain, these depictions were not allowed in religious buildings, but they did appear in secular works. Figurative art in Al-Andalus flourished from the Omayyad period and the Caliphate to the Nasrid dynasty, when objects and living beings were commonly represented in private houses and palaces. Although initially decoration tended to show inanimate objects and use symbolic language, Islamic art gradually assimilated the customs and artistic styles of the conquered areas through the filter of its own particular aesthetics. Animal-shaped fountains are frequently found in Moorish palaces in Spain. This is explained in the Alhambra Museum. This also explains the very large Vase of the Gazelles in the museum, which depicts gazelles. The Alhambra Palace also has a ceiling painting of a sultan and members of his court.
2. Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona
The real name of the church is the Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Familia. The first architect for the church was Francesc de Paula del Villar and he started the construction in 1882. Gaudi was given the job in 1883 and he continued to work on the project until his tragic death in 1926. Different architects have worked on it since then. There is a foundation that runs the project. The church is expiatory, meaning that it is being constructed to atone for wrongdoing or guilt, so the financing of the church is completely private. The admission charge paid by two and a half million visitors each year is what pays for the building construction. It is thought that it will be completed in the first third of this century.
Antoni Gaudi was born in 1852 in Reus, a city in Tarragona. His father was a coppersmith. He studied at the Barcelona Province School of Architecture and received his diploma in 1878. He was given the job of continuing the project of the La Sagrada Familia, but at the same time he accepted work to design other houses and buildings, which later became famous. As an architect Gaudi became very successful. Tragically on June 7, 1926, he was injured by a tram on the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. He was taken to the Hospital de la Santa Creu, but died three days later. During his funeral, the city acknowledged that he was their most illustrious architect.
The church was designed to have a total length of 110 m, and a height of 45 m, with twelve towers between 100 and 115 m high. The ground plan is a Gothic basilical plan in the shape of a Latin cross, with five naves connecting with a transept that connects to three naves, apse, and ambulatory. Three facades which will represent the Nativity, the Passion and Death, and the Glory of Christ. The twelve towers will symbolize the twelve apostles. Four monumental bell towers will represent the four Evangelists. Two colossal domes will represent Christ and the Virgin Mary. The temple crypt began by Villar was finished by Gaudi in 1885.
The sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs has been working on the sculptures of the church in his own style for the last 20 years. The church building now represents Barcelona to the whole world and millions visit it to study its architecture.
3. Prado Museum in Madrid
The Prado is the biggest art gallery in the world. It has more than 7,600 paintings, but can exhibit only one part of its collection for lack of space. However a recent addition to the museum increased the space by 50%, so more paintings will be on display.
Charles III took the royal collections and tried to create one museum under one roof. It was his wife Maria Isabel de Braganza who influenced him in this decision because she was very interested in the idea of a museum. She could be called the mother of the museum. But it was Fernando VII who created the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture in 1819. Later the collection became the national property of the Spanish government and this became the Prado. Prado means meadow, and the museum got the name of Prado because there was an open meadow where the museum now sits. The museum has grown by buying paintings, and many collectors have left their private collections to the museum also.
During the Spanish Civil War, the collection was sent to Geneva for safe keeping and then returned to Madrid during the Second World War.
Besides paintings, the Prado also has collections of sculpture (1000 pieces), coins, drawings (6300), prints(2400), and other works of art. Only 1300 pieces of art are displayed in the Villanueva Building and 3100 works are on loan to other museums. There is a very important 19th century collection of art that has recently been displayed in the new building.
The old building is the Villanueva Building, named after its architect, Juan de Villanueva. This building was started in 1785 but construction was stopped during the War of Independence against the French. After that war the building was finished in 1819. The style of the building is neo-classic. The west front of the museum facing the main street, the Paseo del Prado, has a door called the Velazquez Door because there is a statue of the artist in front of it. There is a frieze above the door that shows an allegory of King Fernando VII as the protector of science, art, and technology, which are represented in figures and are located in front of his throne. Behind the king are the classical mythological gods Apollo, Athena, Mercury, and Neptune.
The new addition to the Prado was finished in October, 2007, and was done by the architect Rafael Moneo, who is the first Spaniard who has won the Pritzker Prize of Architecture. The new addition has a cafeteria, auditorium, and a book shop. In the new lobby one can find Greek statues from Tivoli. There is a new translucent, lantern-shaped patio and there are galleries built around this patio. On the top is a restored Baroque cloister which came from the neighboring San Jeronimo Church. This is now a sculpture gallery. The new addition is called the Jeronimos Building (also called the Moneo Cube, because its shape looks like a cube) and the good thing is that it does not clash with the architecture of the Villanueva building. The entrance to the Jeronimos wing is a massive pair of bronze doors by the artist Cristina Iglesias, which looks like thickets of vines. There is also a rooftop garden that has beautiful box hedges in a very symmetrical design. The best thing about the new addition is that there is plenty of space in its new galleries for big, temporary art shows. The new addition cost $219 million. The new building took ten years to complete because after it was started, they found that there was a stream running down the hill under the site. A technology fix had to be found to isolate the stream from the museum building. This took many years and increased the price of the addition.
4.Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid
This museum permanently has the Thyssen Collection, one of Europe's biggest from the Baron Thyssen. It also has the Carmen Cervera Collection, with more modern paintings starting with the Impressionists.
The highlight at the Thyssen is the collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works. It is astounding to find work after work by Lautrec, Van Goch, Cezanne, Renoir, Pisarro, Monet, Matisse - many others all in a small alcove - so much it literally takes one's breath away.
The Impressionists painters include Claude Monet, John Sargent Singer, Camille Pissarro, Pier-August Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Maximilien Luce, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and Joaquin Sorolla.
The Post Impressionist painters include Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Signac, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Henri Edmond Cross, Paul Serusier, Henri Le Sidaner, Pierre Bonnard, and Maurice Prendergast.
The Fauve painters include Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Georges Braque, and Robert Delaunay.
The Expressionist painters include Edvard Munch, Ernst Kirchner, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Pechstein, Franz Marc, August Macke, and Emil Nolde.
What is enjoyable in the museum is the quiet atmosphere that is conducive to art appreciation. The Prado is too big, too crowded, and too noisy. The Reina Sofia is too modern and has little of the figurative art that many enjoy. Also a practical place to visit - cloakrooms and a gift shop with great quality items. This museum has the best gift shop of any museum in Madrid. It has a huge assortment of art books, both in Spanish and English. There are also all sort of quality art souvenirs.
Another thing about the Thyssen is that it is a beautifully designed museum, with pink marble floors and warm colors on the walls. The Palacio de Villahermosa was chosen for this museum and the famous Spanish architect Rafael Moneo (Pritzker Prize winner for architecture) designed it, keeping the façade of the old palace intact, but redesigning completely the interior. Moneo also designed the new annex containing the Carmen Cervera Collection and cafeteria. The annex does not clash with the façade of the old palace.
When one goes to the Thyssen, one may not notice that there are two collections there, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection was sold to the Spanish government by the Baron Thyssen, while the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection is the personal collection of Carmen Cervera, the widow of the baron. The latter collection is on loan to the museum. Carmen Cervera is popularly known in Spain as Tita Cervera.
5. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (MNCARS) in Madrid
This museum has 20th century paintings, among them Picasso's Guernica. The building that the museum now occupies started out as the San Jose Hospital, a building designed in the 18th century by the architects Jose de Hermosilla and Francisco Sabatini. The building was remodeled in 1981 and in 1992 the Museo Reina Sofia was inaugurated by the King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. In 1990 the collection of modern Spanish art from the Museo Español de Arte Contemporaneo was transferred to the Reina Sofia. After that Picasso’s Guernica was taken from the Cason del Buen Retiro, a part of the Prado Museum, and placed in the Reina Sofia. To add more space, a new building by Jean Nouvel was constructed in 2001 and finished in 2005.
The museum specializes in Spanish contemporary art, art from the 20th century. The most famous Spanish artists of this time period are found in this museum, namely Picasso, Dali, Miro, Julio Gonzalez, Tapies, Oteiza, Equipo Cronica, Gerardo Rueda, Juan Gris, Pablo Gargallo, and Chillida.
There are many foreign artists represented in the museum, such as Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Max Ernst, Magritte, Man Ray, Andre Masson, Tanguy, Jean Arp, Isamu Noguchi, Yves Klein, Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Motherwell.
The top floor of the museum is the library, which is Spain’s largest library dedicated to art. The museum has a central patio with a mobile sculpture by Alexander Caldwell, the library, bookshop, and cafeteria. There are two large glass elevators attached to the façade of the old building.
If one is a modern art lover (likes surrealism, cubism and conceptual art), then the Reina Sofia is the museum one should see. The main attraction of the museum is Picasso’s Guernica, which generates powerful emotions and shows the horrors of war.
6. Cathedral and Giralda in Seville
The building of the Cathedral of Seville was started in 1401 after the destruction of the Moorish mezquita that was in that location. The legend is that it would be so large that when people saw it, they would think that the builders were madmen. The Church of Santa Maria de la Sede was inaugurated in 1507 and is the biggest Gothic church in Europe. It is also the 3rd largest church, after Saint Peter’s in Rome and Saint Paul’s in London. Because the ceiling is so high, the cathedral is the largest volume church in the world. The church also has renaissance and mannerist designs. The dimensions of the church are 116m long, 76m wide, and 56m high at the crossing. The final cathedral was finished 3 centuries after the inauguration. When one enters the church, one has the sense of being very small in such a large church.
The retable of the high altar is huge, the largest in the world. It has an area of 264 square meters. The style is flaming Gothic, and it was designed by P. Duncart, A. Fernandez, and de Covarrubias. There are seven naves in all.
The best materials and furnishings were used in building the church. This included Flemish altar screens, 75 stained glass windows, sculptured portals, wrought iron grills, marble floors, and bronze candelabra.
The Sacristia Mayor has the treasures of the Cathedral. Some of the paintings here are by Murillo. There is also the Key of Seville, from 1248. The Capilla Real is a Renaissance structure with a high dome. It has the 13th century Virgen de los Reyes, the patron saint of Seville. It also contains the tombs of King Fernando III, the Saint (who liberated Seville from the Moors), and King Alfonso X, the Wise, and his wife Beatriz de Suabia.
At one corner in the front of the church, in the transept, is the tomb of Christopher Columbus, held aloft by 4 big statues of soldiers. Recent DNA analysis by scientists show that the remains in this tomb belong to Christopher Columbus, as they were compared to the bones of his son Fernando Colon, whose remains are in in a tomb at the west end of the nave. Hernando Columbus, son of the great navigator, bequeathed his collection of thousands of illustrated manuscripts and codices to the Cathedral. These documents form the bulk of the Columbus Library housed within the Cathedral. The library was founded in the 13th century, but the majority of its manuscripts and documents are about the discovery of America.
The cathedral has the Unesco World Heritage designation. Also it has 500 priceless works of art, such as paintings by Murillo (the Immaculate Conception and Saint Anthony), Zurbarán and Francisco de Goya.
The cloister has the beautiful Patio de los Naranjos. The garden is of Moorish origin and was built on top of the old mosque. There is an octagonal Visigothic fountain in the center that was used by the Moors for religious ablutions.
Beside the church is the Giralda, the bell tower that is the symbol of Seville. It used to be the minaret of the old mosque and was designed by Abou Yakoub and built in 1184. The Christians topped the minaret with a five-story bell tower in 1568. On top of the bell tower is a weathervane in the form of a statue of Faith, called the giraldilla (something that turns), since it turns with the wind, and this is 4 meters high. The statue has a standard and a palm frond in his hands. That is how the tower got the name of La Giralda. The platform is 70 meter high and is reached by a ramp that two horsemen could pass abreast. One can go up the tower and get a bird's eye view of the city. The total height of La Giralda is 93m. The tower has 24 bells.
7. Cathedral / Mezquita in Cordoba
The Cathedral in Cordoba is the Mezquita. This was the most important mosque of the western Islamic world and one of the biggest mosques. The mosque was built on top of an earlier Visigothic church, which they destroyed, and this was started in 785 A.D. by the Moorish leader Abderrahman I. In the 9th and 10th centuries the building was enlarged to its present size, which is 179m long and 129m wide. About one third of this area is taken by the courtyard. The perimeter of the mosque has an outer wall that is between 9m and 20m high, and with many buttresses.
When one enters the Mezquita, there is a hole in the floor in one part, and one can see the Visigothic remains. The Moors used the marble columns of the Visigothic church in their construction of the mosque. It took 2 centuries to finish the mosque, and at that time it was the second biggest mosque in the Muslim world. When the Spanish reconquered Cordoba in 1236, they built a Renaissance nave in the middle of the mosque and the mosque became the cathedral. The continued use of the church has saved the mosque from destruction, especially during the time of the inquisition. The Catholics dedicated the church to the Virgen de la Asuncion (the Virgin of the Assumption).
The most important architectural feature of the Mezquita are the double horseshoe arches, made of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. There are more than a thousand columns in the church and they seem to be a sea of arches and columns to the visitor. The interior is only 11.5m high. All visitors are impressed. The Catholic section is also beautiful, and there was reconstruction for several centuries, so one also sees Baroque elements in the church. There is a bell tower (the campanario) that is 60m high, and this was built in 1593. It is crowned with the statue of the Archangel Raphael, who is the patron saint of the city. There is a choir that is very richly decorated with Baroque stalls from the 18th century. The high altar is made or red marble and has a picture by Palomino. In the Capilla Real there are nine statues of the saints by Alonso Cano and a silver tabernacle by Enrique de Arfe.
The Mezquita has a huge patio and garden filled with short orange trees, called the Patio de los Navajos (the patio of the oranges). This was used for the ablutions required by the Muslim religion. Many times the Moors would pray in the patio, so most mosques have large patios. Anyway the Mezquita is one of Spain’s most impressive monuments, one of a kind. It is considered one of the highest achievement of Moorish art in Spain.
8. La Pedrera (Casa Mila) in Barcelona
Gaudi built La Pedrera for the prominent Mila Family (Pere Mila was an industrialist and his wife was Roser Segimon) between 1906 and 1912. This caused a sensation at that time because everything in the building was curved and undulated. People made fun of it because they did not understand it or its abstract sculpture. The outside walls were made of stone and reminded people of a quarry, so it was called La Pedrera (meaning stone quarry). The facade is undulating and has large windows and balconies with elaborate wrought iron railings. There is an inner patio that acts like an air shaft for the building. The top floor has the Gaudi Space and has an explanation of Gaudi’s work and a very good scale model of the building. Gaudi apparently studied nature intensely and found that nature had no straight lines. Gaudi learned to build with curves that had strength. The roof terrace has chimney stacks that are called scare-witches, and these have very unusual shapes, and really are abstract sculptures. On the 4th floor is the Flat of La Pedrera, which is a replica of an apartment of Gaudi’s time, and this apartment occupies a space of 600 square meters and has household utensils, furniture, and decorative objects. This apartment shows how well-to-do people lived during that time and is very interesting. La Pedrera was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984. The building represents the zenith of Modernism.
9. City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia
This group of modern and white buildings was designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, a native of the city. The architecture is avant garde and eye-catching. It comprises an Imax theater, an aquarium, and the Prince Felipe Science Museum, which houses a very wide range of interesting subjects. The science museum is interactive and shows the contributions of science and technology in improving our daily life. There are restaurants in the complex because the visit is a whole day affair. There is an artificial lake that surrounds some of the buildings. There are beautiful gardens that are everywhere and a building that is called the L'Umbracle, which houses a walkway that is lined with trees. The L'Oceanografic became the largest aquarium in Europe when it was inaugurated in 2002. This great aquarium has exhibits that come from all over the world and represent the major oceans and seas.
10. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
American architect Frank Gehry designed this avant-garde building with a skin of titanium. The museum opened in 1997 and became a landmark immediately and the symbol of the city. Outside the museum there is a giant topiary of a puppy, designed by the American artist Jeff Koons, and this is about 30 feet tall. The topiary is made of flowers of different colors. This puppy is very unique, something beautiful and something to remember.
The building is huge and there are 3 stories, with very high ceilings. The ceiling for the first floor is about 50 feet high. This allows the museum to display huge works of art. One area of the first floor is dedicated to huge steel sculptures of Richard Serra. They are formed like huge cylinders, like the insides of sea shells and one walks inside the sculptures. The museum is located by the river and it has magnificent views of the outside, of the river and the mountain. The museum has huge glass walls and windows, which let in a lot of light. On the 2nd and 3rd floors, there are bridges that join the different salons. This gives the viewer very impressive views.
The rest of the museum has very modern art, dating from about 1945. It includes abstract expressionism art and pop art. They is a huge Andy Warhol mural of Marilyn Monroe’s face reproduced many times and it covers about 50 feet of the wall. There are several large Rauschenburg paintings. Other artists are Louise Bourgeois and Chillida.
11. The Roman City of Mérida in Extremadura
Mérida was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire and still boasts an impressive number of Roman sites in excellent condition. It was founded in 25 BC by Emperor Augustus, with the name Augusta Emerita, in order that soldiers discharged from his army could protect a bridge over the Guadiana River. This bridge can still be seen today - in fact traffic still crossed it until recently, though it is now pedestrianised. The city became the capital of Lusitania, which included much of Portugal and Western Spain. Mérida preserves more Roman monuments than any other city in Spain, including an amphitheatre, theatre, various aqueducts, temples, a triumphal arch, a necropolis, and numerous smaller treasures.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the city maintained much of its splendour under the Visigoths, who made it the capital of Hispania. It fell to the Muslim army of Musa bin Nusair in 713. The Moors re-used most of the old Roman edifices and expanded them, for example the Alcázar next to the Roman Bridge.
If you are visiting Mérida, you can buy a reasonably priced single ticket which enables you to visit all the sites. The Roman Art museum, next to the amphitheatre, is particularly impressive and a good place to escape from the heat of the Extremadura sun.