Remarkable Iron Window Bars Found in Mérida Roman Baths
Having unearthed the ruins of a well-preserved public bath house in Mérida, Spain, in July 2023, archaeologists have come across another exciting find. The baths were discovered while excavating inside the famous 2,000-year-old House of the Amphitheater (Casa del Anfiteatro), built by the Romans in a colony in Spain they called Augusta Emerita. Within the bath house, they have now excavated a set of “practically intact” and crisscrossed iron window bars.
Archaeologists excavating the crisscrossed iron window bars at Roman baths unearthed in Mérida, Spain, which would have once covered a window. (Consortium of the Monumental City of Mérida)
The Mérida Roman Iron Window Bars Find in Context
The discovery of iron window bars in such good condition is pretty exceptional. The Romans famously used both iron and steel in construction, as well as for making tools and weapons. It was also common for Roman windows to be closed with either iron bars or wooden shutters, but over time these elements have usually deteriorated significantly due to either corrosion or the the quality of the iron employed.
These particular iron window bars were found within the ancient apodyterium, an area which was to all intents and purposes a changing room or a specific area within Roman bathhouses where individuals would undress before entering the bathing facilities.
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In the 1960s a similar set of iron window bars was discovered within the kitchen of the House of the Amphitheater. The latest discovery of iron window bars is currently undergoing a meticulous cleaning and restoration process after having spent so many years underground, with the goal of returning them to their original splendor before they are put on display for the public to admire.
The iron window bars being excavated at the Roman baths unearthed in Mérida, Spain. (Consortium of the Monumental City of Mérida)
Roman Baths Belonged to a Private Home in Mérida
According to Felix Palma, the director of the Consortium of the Monumental City of Mérida, the Roman 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. In an article published in El Diario, Ana Maria Bejarano, the Consortium archaeologist leading excavations, explained that the large public baths “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).
View of the large Roman baths excavated in Merida, Spain. (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 Roman baths were unearthed during excavations of the House of the Amphitheater (Casa del Anfiteatro). (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.
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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: Archaeologists have discovered the remains of iron window bars at the recently unearthed Roman baths excavated in Mérida, Spain. Source: Consortium of the Monumental City of Mérida
By Nathan Falde