Roman Lusitania and its Prehistoric Past
The Romans named their province in southern Iberia after the local people - the Lusitani - it now spreads over Spanish Extramadura and Portuguese Alentejo. The capital was at Mérida, today a modest Spanish town dwarfed by the remnants of its Roman Imperial past. While the superb evidence of Romanisation here is the focus of our programme, it is enhanced by some spectacular prehistoric and medieval sites along the way.
Our journey takes us from the coast at Lisbon through beautiful countryside and picturesque towns; we see prehistoric tombs, Roman towns, and the sites of the 19th century Penisular War. Andy Fear is an expert on all things Iberian and will bring the vanished world of Roman Lusitania to life.
- Historic Churches
Fly to Lisbon from your US airport of choice and drive to our hotel in Palmela.
By ferry to the site of Tróia, the largest fishsauce production center known from the Roman world. There are some 52 factories here, having around 3000 tanks in which the layers of salt and fish rotted to produce the ubiquitous sauces of the ancient world. Afternoon spent exploring Évora, a former Roman municipium, Ebora Liberalitas Iulia, and now a World Heritage Site. It still has Roman remains, notably the Temple of Diana, but in the late medieval period it was a favorite haunt of Portuguese monarchs.
Two major Roman villas - Pisões and São Cucufate. The latter has several building phases from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD - the latest of these is, understandably, the most visible, and built on a palatial scale. The major prehistoric site of Os Almendres is the largest group of megaliths in Portugal. Visit Anta Grande do Zambujeiro, the largest prehistoric burial chamber in the Iberian peninsula.
Drive to the border town of Badajoz, a town with a Moorish past, famously besieged by the British in 1812 during the
Peninsular War. Visit the Alcazaba Museum, with its major collection of warrior stelae, and then continue to Mérida (Roman
Emerita Augusta) named after the veterans who were settled here by Augustus.
All day exploring Roman Mérida, a simple Spanish provincial town still dominated by the remains of its Roman past. It was important throughout the Roman period and beyond. The Roman remains are outstanding, including the bridge over the River Guadiana, a large amphitheater, a splendid theater, a fine circus and the ‘Temple of Diana’. The Archaeological Museum has fine displays of objects, including mosaics.
Spend the day in Alcántara, home of one of Spain’s orders of crusading knights, with its remarkable Roman bridge. The old town of Cáceres is a perfectly preserved example of a medieval town. The Roman dam of La Proserpina, which stored water for Roman Mérida to be transported by aqueduct. The Proserpina Dam is one of the best-preserved of Roman date in the world.
Visit the castle at Medellín, the birthplace of conquistador and conqueror of the Aztecs, Hernan Cortes. Return to Mérida for further exploration: Visigothic basilica of Sta Eulalia, who was martyred here in AD 304, and was buried beneath the medieval parish church. Nearby is the well-preserved Roman circus.
We visit the huge arches of the aqueduct known as Los Milagros, standing over 100 feet high, which brought water from
the dam (seen on Day 6) to the city. Drive to Lisbon via the fortress town of Elvas; fly home to the US or continue your journey onwards.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Andante Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with water (wine with dinners) except lunch days 5 & 6
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in program; tips included
- Field Notes
- Hotels - 1 night in a 4* Pousada hotel in a converted convent attached to a 17th century castle, on the hillside at Palmela; 2 nights in a 4* hotel within the walls of the historic center of Évora with a pleasant garden and swimming pool; 4 nights in a Parador, another former convent, in central Mérida
- 1 night in a 4* hotel in Palmela: in a converted convent attached to a 17th century castle, at the top of the hillside town.
- 2 nights in a 5* hotel within the walls of the historic center of Évora: converted from the 16th century 'Sepulveda Palace' the rooms are bright and furnished with a modern touch. It has a pleasant garden with swimming pool.
- 4 nights in a parador, another former convent, in central Mérida: still retaining some of its 18th century structure, this hotel has an attractive small garden and a restaurant with a high vaulted ceiling.
Many of our tours can be linked together to form longer programmes. We are happy to arrange connecting flights and hotels, allowing you to spend as long as you wish exploring the ancient world... See suggestions below: