Jo’s Monday walk : Mértola’s 10th Islamic Festival

Time to stray across the border again.  A different border this time, crossing the northern boundary between the Algarve and Alentejo, and high into the hills above the River Guadiana, to wonderful Mértola.  A place so rich in beauty and history it almost hurts, not least because of the steep gradient of its streets.

I was there on a mission.  The 10th Islamic Festival had come to town, and my good friend Becky had advised me not to miss it.  Interested in all things archaeological, I knew that she had been impressed with her exploration of the ruins there, but more of that later.  For now, let’s bring on the dancing girls, to the insidious beat of the drum, as they snake beneath the castle walls.

Sumptuous smells assault the senses, and materials of every conceivable shade waft and billow above and around you.  Lanterns glisten and twinkle in the light as you are transported back through time, to the Souk.  The drum beat fades as you stop to browse the stalls.  Leather bags and sandals and slippers in every style imaginable, mounds of spices, nuts and tiny cakes fight for your attention.  The stall holders smile, and try to barter with any potential customer.  Beautifully fragrant soaps claim to be good for the environment, as well as your skin.  It is overwhelming, but fascinating.

In a quieter corner, beneath the castle walls, craftsmen ply their trades.  Exquisitely carved woods, a loom for weaving, gleaming metal jugs and canisters, artfully and painstakingly decorated.  Some items are extremely useful, others prized purely for their beauty.

Below the castle, Igreja Matriz awaits, her doors invitingly open.  I enter reverently, delighted by this rare opportunity.  Behind the altar, the remains of the mihrab from the 12th century mosque, since converted to a Christian temple.

A garden slopes away behind the church, and I look down upon the makeshift roofs of the market to the Guadiana, far below.

But then, the icing on the cake!  And please don’t take that literally.  In the many years that I’ve been visiting Mértola, I’ve been aware of an archaeological dig.  Becky alerted me to the fact that great progress had been made and, sure enough, the gate was open.  Firstly you are invited inside a life-sized replica of an Islamic home.

15 such dwellings were found in the surrounding area.  The 70cm foundations were of stone, the walls of taipa (rammed earth) and the roofs, sloping down to the patio, Roman roof tiles placed on a layer of canes.  The floor was usually of beaten earth and inside walls adobe (mud brick).

Much of the detail is lost, but information panels reconstruct and explain some of what was once there.  An Episcopal palace in 6AD and a style of living far beyond the grandeur we have today.  It must have been fine to saunter in the cool, between the columns, and sit contemplating those carefully wrought hunting scenes at the end of another hot day, the sound of water tinkling in the background.

The castle watches sombrely over the graveyard and the ruins below.  I climb to its heights where, from the castle walls, I can sweep my gaze over the terrain beyond.  The distinctive shape of the church below is like a beacon.

Things are beginning to bustle down below, and preparations to feed the hungry are going full pelt.  I have walked past innumerable vendors of caramelised nuts, twitching my nose appreciatively, but it’s time for something more substantial.  Overhead the washing flaps.

The Mértola website is a feast of information.  I can’t believe that it was actually back in May 2016 that I last took you strolling there.  At that time I hoped to attend the biennial Islamic Festival in 2017.  They say all good things come to those that wait.  I’d have to agree.

Just one more hill to climb, for the view, of course.

I’m aware that this is a bit of a blockbuster of a post, but it will be my last walk with you for a while, so I hope you’ll indulge me.  Next week I’m off to the Azores and I will be a whirl of panic and packing next Monday.

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There’ll be stories to tell when I get back!  Meantime you can still send your walks and I’ll catch up when I can.  Thanks so much for the support and good company.  Here are some more great reads :

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Bluebell time ‘back home’.  It passes so quickly!  Let Debbie show you the way :

A walk into the land of fantasy

One treat always follows another around here.  Bask in the land of beauty, with Jude :

Fairy Flowers

Hopefully the floods have subsided since Janet sent me this walk.  Glad she’s keeping an eye on things :

Monday walk…walking on water

There’s always space for an oddity around here.  Especially when it’s from Dad’s homeland :

The Crooked Wood in Pomerania/Poland

It’s a while since I walked with Denzil.  He’s very knowledgeable about his native Belgium :

On foot through the Hageland

What do you know about Norway’s Constitution Day? I’m sure Rupali can enlighten you :

Weekend: National Day

Ever rambled with a Wombat?  Maybe you should try it!

A walk around Lake Ginninderra

There’s something about waterfalls that gets me every time.  Thanks, Carol!

A Different View

Irene’s sharing beautiful flowers this week.  I expect she’d like some company :

Walk in the Garden

And it wouldn’t be Monday without a Cathy’s Camino walk or two, would it?

(Camino day 16) Villamayor del Rio to Viillafranca Montes de Oca

(Camino day 17) Villafranca Montes de Oca to Atapuerca

‘Don’t cry for me Argentina!’  A city of history and beauty shared, with affection, by Susan :

Walking Buenos Aires, Argentina

That’s all for now, folks!  Take good care till the next time.

 

110 comments

  1. Jo,what an evocative description of Mertola and the Islamic Festival 🙂 You can almost smell all the scents and feel in some small way what it must be like to visit.I love areas that are a melting pot of different heritages and cultures. My cousin has recently spent a month in Spain and loved the Moorish background of the south. I am just catching up after our trip. We are starting a major renovation of our kitchen and laundry area in a couple of weeks time – I shall be holed up in the attic but hopefully can devote myself to some blogging too. We are staying put in Perth for a while now, the last 18 months or so have been pretty exceptional in terms of trips but I have so much to write up! Sounds like you are heading off to the Azores very soon – sounds wonderful! Mlle was planning to do another surfing trip this year to Fuerteventura (different set of islands I know) but has settled on a fishing village an hour south of Lisbon for a week’s surf course in July. Anyway have a wonderful trip and look forward to reading about it when you get back – in the meantime enjoy the R&R! xx 🙂

    1. Hiya darlin! This is nominally a packing/online check in day. I hate that bit so I’m skiving and thinking about going to the beach for a bit. Tomorrow I’ll panic 😊. I love Mertola. Such a charismatic place. Hope the work goes well. It’ll be worth it when it’s done 😎🌊🐚🐳💕

      1. I’m the same Jo – I really dislike getting ready for trips these days especially packing, sorting the house out, all the admin etc! Always relax more when we finally get to the airport as there isn’t much you can do about things then! I can see why you love Mertola – looks a fascinating and vibrant place. Yes I’m focusing on the end result – the next few weeks especially will be a bit stressful but no pain. no gain as they say! Bon voyage! 🙂 🙂

  2. Oh, how you get around, and how well you describe the getting!! What an intriguing place, rich with so many things. Enjoy the Azores my dear. They (it) are (is) completely unknown to me so I look forward to seeing them with you as my guide. Slip a hug or two amongst the packing.

    1. Oh, what a joy to find you here, Meg! 🙂 🙂 I’m pootling about with a ‘6 months on’ post and distracting myself from packing and online check in, which I hate. 🙂 I have tucked the hugs in an inside pocket for when I need them. Thanks darlin!

  3. Jo your eloquent and descriptive narrative transported me to the smells and sounds and sights. Fascinating archaeology and a view to leave one’s mouth hanging open. Have a fabulous trip to the Azores.

  4. Oh Jo, thanks so very much for this rich and comprehensive visit to Mertola and the Islamic Festival. Your writing gave beautiful depth to all the senses of this fascinating place. And the photos were a complete joy. Thanks for climbing so many hills for us, as the vistas were astounding. The archaeology project is extraordinary, how very exciting they have uncovered this town, easy to see why you and your friend and others would be so excited about this discovery. Fascinating post, thanks so much. And have a blast in the Azores!

    1. Hi Jet! I’m sitting sweltering up on the roof, thinking about the packing. We will be traveling light as we’re island hopping but I’ll still be um-ing and ah-ing until we leave. Excited! Thanks so much. This was a lovely festival 😎🌊🍨🍸💕

  5. It’s not only the Mertola’s website, this post, too, is a feast of information. And I thank you.for sharing them. I learned a lot from your stroll.

    1. Thank you very kindly. 🙂 🙂 I try to include relevant links because there simply isn’t space for all the details on here. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  6. Wow that festival looks a riot of colour and different smells. You get to some really different places and events don’t you? Enjoy the Azores.

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