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 :


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.



    1. Thanks Susanne. I’ll be with you in a little while. Just recovering from today’s Portuguese lesson. On my roof terrace. The evening is too good to waste 😎💕

  1. I would be a very happy girl there, I love Islamic arts and craft, I even have some slippers, scruffy now so I wear them in the garden. Those fabrics would empty my purse and you can never have enough pretty wooden boxes. The archaeology is fascinating too, reminds me of Turkey. What a narrow little stretch of the Guadiana under that fabulous bridge. This may be a block buster post but it’s also an Oscar winner darling x 🙂 x

    1. Thanks so much darlin! I could very easily picture you there. Lots of time organising things this week so I won’t be around much. So excited! 😍🐳🐚🐠🐡🌊💕

  2. That festival looks amazing! And the bridge in the first photo almost looks fake, like it was photoshopped in there, because it is so perfectly crisp and white. Beautiful scene!

    1. I looked at lots of gorgeous sandals, Carol, but trying them on in a confined space didn’t appeal. And there was a lamp I rather loved, but we don’t really have anywhere to put it. 😦 It was very hazy initially but cleared to a lovely day.

  3. Mertola would be a wonderful visit any time, but enjoying the Islamic Festival, too? You know how to do it well, Jo! Thank you for the photos! I loved the tour. 🙂

  4. Fascinating, Jo! Looks like one festival I would actually enjoy going to… if it weren’t for the distance to get there. Lucky you to have it close!

    1. The Alentejo is Portugal’s biggest county, Gunta, with miles of wide open spaces and a beautiful coastline. We’ve been around the edges but there are still big gaps to fill. One day… 🙂 🙂

      1. As the promotional video suggests: “there are still places like this in the world”. Doesn’t it ever make you hesitate to spread the word?

  5. Glad I caught this one. Mertola is wonderful but to add the Islamic festival too, wow! When is it? We have one in the Sierra Aracena at Almonaster, usually end of October. Almonaster has a mosque/church monument on top of a hill. Enjoy the Azores, I have a couple of posts when on San Miguel and then Faial and Pico.
    Hubby wants to go for third time! Wait till you are a dot on google in the middle of the Atlantic!

      1. Oh sounds well planned. Try the botanic garden in Ponta Delgada if you stay there. And go for a hot bath in the springs, I think Furness but it will be clear where. There are some great walks of course. We did a short one on Faial near the whale hunting museum. Whale trip was also good from Faial.

      2. Up to my ears in ideas at present. I’m hoping it will all fall into place 🙂 🙂 Just 1 night in Ponta Delgada but I remember the botanic gardens being mentioned by a friend so thanks for reminding me. We stay 2 nights at Furnas and I have great expectations. It’s my 70th birthday treat 🙂

      3. Oh Congratulations on reaching this, it was Trevor’s too when he reached it 3 years ago! Depending where you stay the botanic gardens is not too far from much in Ponta Delgada! Enjoy!

  6. What a fascinating town. Those stalls attract me, the steep streets less so! Enjoy the Azores, I know how long you have longed to visit them and I hope they live up to your expectations.

    1. Me too, Jude. Our neighbour was telling me about the glorious hydrangea in the hedgerows this evening. I just need to get it right 😘💕 xx

  7. Jo, we lived Mertola on our recent visit. I would have loved to attend this festival, so glad you were able to make it there again and bring me so many lovely memories 🙂

  8. wow! what an amazing walk, truly a feast to the senses! what a lovely and delightful festival. i’m drooling over the exquisitely carved woods 🙂 Mertola’s castle so rich in history and treasures, Jo. and the view of the bridge is breathtaking! thank you as always. safe travels and enjoy Azores 🙂 🙂

  9. RJo – Wow. Of course, I’d heard the description ‘bleached’ applied to some architecture around areas in Portugal and Spain, but your photos really brought that description to life. And the bridge!
    Hope your visit to the Azores is fabulous. Cheers – Susan

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