Name of Monument:
Merida, Badajoz, Spain
Date of Monument:
Hegira 220 / AD 835
Period / Dynasty:
Umayyad of al-Andalus, Emirate period
‘Abd al-Rahman II (r. AH 207–38 / AD 822–52).
The city of Merida, founded by Augustus in AD 25, was one of the main urban centres of Roman Hispania and it was the second most important metropolis in the Visigothic period, after Toledo. The city went on to be the most important city in Gharb al-Andalus (western al-Andalus) after the Muslim conquest. However, continuous rebellions against the centralist Umayyad power sent Merida into obvious decline. In AH 220 / AD 835, following a succession of rebellions and sieges, ‘Abd al-Rahman II ordered the construction of a fortress where troops loyal to Córdoba could shelter in order to secure the city and guarantee the submission of an area so prone to uprisings.
The citadel sits on the bank of the Guadiana River next to the bridge and its wall is built on a Roman containment-dyke. It is a square enclosure of some 130 m2 with a perimeter of 550 m. The walls, 2.70 m thick and 10 m tall, are built of granite ashlars taken from existing Roman and Visigothic buildings. The wall is strengthened by a series of large quadrangular towers that act as buttresses. The main entrance to the enclosure is a horseshoe arch situated on the north side and flanked by two towers. This entrance was protected by a rectangular courtyard with another two gateways (one to the bridge and one to the city) that acted as a barbican or initial defensive area.
Inside the enclosure in the western section there has survived a rectangular reservoir, also constructed of granite ashlars, that dates to the same period. The building providing access to the water store is decorated with salvaged Visigothic pillars and has two flights of stairs that go down to the pool. The reservoir was continuously filled with river water filtering through the ground and would provide water to the people in the citadel in times of siege.
After the Reconquista the fortress was given to the Order of St. James, which added towers and other medieval structures in order to convert it into a convent and a residence, which explains why the building is also known as the 'Merida Convent'.
View Short Description
This is the oldest surviving Muslim fortification on the peninsula. Having put down the continuous revolts against Merida, the Amir of Córdoba ‘Abd al-Rahman II ordered the city walls to be dismantled and a new fortress to be built from the salvaged ashlars using a header/stretcher bond in accordance with existing Roman and Byzantine military tradition. The new fort was located next to the Roman bridge over the Guadiana River in order to defend it. It was also used as the governor’s residence and as refuge for servants loyal to the amir in the event of a revolt.
How Monument was dated:
A surviving inscription tells us the exact date when the citadel was constructed. It was commissioned by the Amir ‘Abd al-Rahman II in 220 / 835.
Gómez Moreno, M., El Arte árabe Español Hasta los Almohades: Arte Mozárabe,Ars Hispaniae, Vol. III, Madrid, 1951, pp.45–6.
Hernández Jiménez, F., “The Alcazaba of Mérida: 220 H. (835)”, in Early Muslim Architecture, Vol. 2, Oxford, 1940, pp.197–207.
Serra y Rafols, J., “La Alcazaba de Mérida”, Archivo Español de Arqueología, 65, 1946, pp.334–45.
Valdés Fernández, F., “La Fortificación Islámica en Extremadura: Resultados Provisionales de los Trabajos en las Alcazabas de Mérida, Badajoz y Trujillo y la Cerca Urbana de Cáceres”, Extremadura Arqueológia,no. 2, Badajoz 1991, pp.547–57.
Zozaya, J., “Islamic Fortifications in Spain: Some Aspects”, British Archaeological Report, 193, 1984, pp.636–73.
Citation of this web page:
Margarita Sánchez Llorente "Merida Citadel" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;es;Mon01;5;en
Prepared by: Margarita Sánchez Llorente
Copyedited by: Rosalía Aller
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: SP 05