Visiting Mértola – long history
”The Roman Mirtilis, Arab Mirtolah or Portuguese Mértola, overlooking the river Guadiana, is of great historical interest: in fact, this charming, whitewashed town is like a living museum with discoveries from different periods displayed in separate areas.
Mertola’s origins date back to the Phoenicians, who created an important fluvial port, later enjoyed by the Romans and the Moors. Its many treasures can be seen at the Roman Nucleus, the Visigothic Nucleus and the Islamic Nucleus.
The importance of the Moorish domination is also visible at the recent Islamic Museum, which is the biggest of Europe to exhibit exclusively works of Islamic art.
The Moorish-style Mother Church, near the almost ruined hilltop castle (1292), is the most interesting monument due to its unusual architecture, as it was formerly a mosque and kept many of its original characteristics.”
Is that clear or do I need to explain?
Coming from the 9th century, this Muslim castle was conquered by the Portuguese in 1238.
The successive enlargements and reinforcements gave it a different look.
After being abandoned and ruined in the 18th century, it was partially recovered in the 20th century and today is part of the historic ensemble, also exposing some roman, Visigoth and muslim carved stones.
Pulo do Lobo
A natural accident, south of Alqueva dam, it was almost unknown until the day when the prime-minister (later President), to evade a question from a journalist, said that he had been out with the family visiting Pulo do Lobo.
After some quilometres in a dirty road (either from Mértola or from Serpa) it provides two kinds of show – a vigorous waterfall in winter, and a calm and strange rock formation, oddly eroded by the violence of the river, with water running between the rocks.
We had this second show, and since the construction of Alqueva dam and the reduced water flow, I think that you hardly may have the other one. However, visiting Mértola this could be a good place for a picnic.
Alentejo is, at our scale, a large province that stands in the way to Algarve. Most people coming from the north cross it without stopping, anxious to relax by the sea.
That is not a wise solution. You may, as we say, “join the useful to the pleasant”, and make a “technical stop” at Mértola. The town is small but wonderful.
Depending on your time, you may just stop by the castle, for a quick visit, entering the small church that was, in its beginning, a Muslim mosque.
Then, if you decide to stay a while, you may stroll along town, in search of the Roman, Visigoth, Muslim and Paleochristian remnants.
There’s a museum, split in five nucleus by themes, and with one single ticket you may enter all that you want, the main attraction being the Arab nucleus.
OK, you may proceed now, and I promise you that in about one hour you may be in the water.
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