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.
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 :
One treat always follows another around here. Bask in the land of beauty, with Jude :
Hopefully the floods have subsided since Janet sent me this walk. Glad she’s keeping an eye on things :
There’s always space for an oddity around here. Especially when it’s from Dad’s homeland :
It’s a while since I walked with Denzil. He’s very knowledgeable about his native Belgium :
What do you know about Norway’s Constitution Day? I’m sure Rupali can enlighten you :
Ever rambled with a Wombat? Maybe you should try it!
There’s something about waterfalls that gets me every time. Thanks, Carol!
Irene’s sharing beautiful flowers this week. I expect she’d like some company :
And it wouldn’t be Monday without a Cathy’s Camino walk or two, would it?
‘Don’t cry for me Argentina!’ A city of history and beauty shared, with affection, by Susan :
That’s all for now, folks! Take good care till the next time.