Image by DEA / G. NIMATALLAH De Agostini

Mérida's most spectacular Roman monument, and the only one to once again fulfill its original function (by hosting performances during the Festival Internacional de Teatro Clásico in summer), the Teatro Romano is the city's indisputable highlight. It was built around 15 BC to seat 6000 spectators. The adjoining (slightly less dazzling) Anfiteatro opened in 8 BC for gladiatorial contests and held 14,000; the gladiator-versus-lion fresco in the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano was taken from here.

The centrepiece of the theatre is the dramatic and well-preserved two-tier stage building of Corinthian columns; the stage's facade (scaenae frons) was inaugurated in AD 105. Statues of gods frame its central entryway, with the right-hand figure being interpreted as both the Graeco-Egyptian god Serapis and Pluto, and the left-hand one considered to be either a muse or Proserpina. Behind lie peaceful gardens.