While excavating inside the famous 2,000-year-old House of the Amphitheater (Casa del Anfiteatro) in Mérida, Spain, which was built by the Romans in a colony in Spain they called Augusta Emerita, archaeologists discovered the well-preserved remains of a huge public bath area .
Excavations of mosaics discovered in the House of the Amphitheater (Casa del Anfiteatro) in Mérida, Spain, where the Roman baths have been unearthed. ( Ayuntamiento De Mérida )
Roman Baths Belonged to Private Home in Mérida
“Fantastic baths of an enormous size have been found for what is a standard Roman house,” stated Felix Palma, the director of the Consortium of the Monumental City of Mérida archaeological project, in a statement given to the Spanish publication El Diario . Palma said the baths would have belonged to a private residence or perhaps a set of private residences, although they would have been widely shared and therefore could still be labeled as “public” baths.
Palma’s excitement at this unique discovery was echoed by Ana Maria Bejarano, the Consortium archaeologist leading excavations at the site. She confirmed that her project “has a spectacular result of large public baths, which exceed the baths that a normal house would have.”
Inside the bathing area, Bejarano said her team found “perfectly preserved” individual bathing facilities. The area featured ample wall and floor decorations, including marble plaques, moldings, paintings and various underground structures associated with the baths, all of which were in outstanding condition.
In most instances, a pool will be found adjacent to a Roman bath site. So far, however, none has been found in the House of the Amphitheater (although the archaeologists plan to keep looking).
The Roman baths were unearthed during excavations of the House of the Amphitheater (Casa del Anfiteatro). ( Ayuntamiento De Mérida )
Roman Baths Are Stunning Example Roman Domestic Architecture in Spain
Labeled as the House of the Amphitheater because of its proximity to a Roman amphitheater where gladiatorial games were held, this elaborate living complex represents one of the finest examples of Roman domestic architecture found anywhere in Spain.
Over the years excavations at the large home unearthed in Mérida have uncovered a large courtyard and many different rooms, which feature colorful mosaic floors , hallways lined with beautiful painted frescoes (murals) and many artifacts that detail the daily living habits of the Roman citizens who colonized Spain in the early days of their Empire.
While the House of the Amphitheater is the largest Roman residence uncovered during excavations at Mérida, the size of the newly discovered bathing area still exceeds expectations. The installment of such an extensive Roman bath facility suggests huge social gatherings may have been hosted by the homeowner, possibly in connection with the gladiatorial games going on close by.
The House of the Amphitheatre is just one of the archaeological treasures being uncovered in Mérida, Spain. ( Ayuntamiento De Mérida )
Exploring the Archaeological Ensemble of Merida and Beyond
The site where the house containing the Roman baths was constructed actually lies in an area that was outside the original walls of the colony of Augusta Emerita . This “suburb” of the city included residential buildings, funerary facilities and industrial spaces. In this context, the Casa del Anfiteatro and another nearby home known as the Torre del Agua (House of the Water Tower) were the area’s version of ancient mansions, with the Casa del Anfiteatro being the bigger of the two.
Augusta Emerita was founded in 25 BC by retired Roman soldiers, and it eventually became the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania. It lies within the boundaries of the modern city of Mérida, which is the capital of the Extremadura region in west central Spain.
Despite the immense passage of time, a large section of the old colony remains intact, in the form of various grand structures and infrastructure projects that bear the unique architectural and cultural signatures of the Roman Empire.
The House of the Amphitheater is part of the spectacular and expansive Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida , which was recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1993. In addition to the amphitheater and the house that bears its name, the preserved Roman remains include a long bridge that spans the Guadiana River, a theater, a circus and an extraordinarily well-designed water diversion system that would have kept Augusta Emerita’s citizens well-supplied with fresh water.
The House of the Amphitheater, where the Roman baths have been excavated, is in an exceptional state of preservation. ( Ayuntamiento De Mérida )
But the House of the Amphitheater remains a true gem in an ancient city filled with them. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, Felix Palma highlighted the “exceptional” level of conservation at the site where the Roman baths were found. Its paintings and mosaics are incredibly well preserved, while the newly excavated bathing area is likewise in “excellent” condition.
“We are excavating the continuation of the Casa del Amphitheater whose limits are unknown to complete its chronology,” he said, confirming that excavations will be continuing at this astounding ancient Roman mansion.
In the months ahead, the Consortium archaeologists will be moving on to explore other sites inside and outside the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida as well. One area they are looking forward to digging into more deeply is the Huerto de Otero, an open-air excavation on the western side of Mérida where more than a dozen Islamic era tombs have been unearthed. This discovery shows that the city of Mérida has a fascinating and complex history, one that didn’t end when the Romans abandoned Augusta Emerita for good.
Top image: View of the large Roman baths excavated in Merida, Spain. Source: Ayuntamiento De Mérida
By Nathan Falde