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71km (44 miles) S of Cáceres, 56km (35 miles) E of Badajoz

Founded in 25 B.C., Mérida is at the intersection of the Roman roads linking Toledo with Lisbon and Salamanca with Seville. Once the capital of Lusitania (the Latin name for ancient Portugal, which included parts of southwestern Spain), Mérida was one of the most splendid cities in Iberia. It ranked as a town of major importance in the Roman Empire -- in fact, it was once called a miniature Rome. Its monuments, temples, and public works make it the site of some of the finest Roman ruins in Spain, and as such it is the tourist capital of Extremadura. Old Mérida can be covered on foot -- in fact, that's the only way to see it. Pay scant attention to the dull modern suburb across the Guadiana River, which skirts the town with its sluggish waters.