Mertola

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.

 

Jo’s Monday walk: Mertola

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In a week or so of very mixed weather, we drove north from the Algarve in radiant sunshine. I was certain that luck would desert us as we crossed the border into the Alentejo. For a little while hazy clouds veiled the sun, but then Mertola was displayed in all her glory.

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If ever you want to step back into Portugal’s Moorish past, this is a fine place to do it.  I don’t intend to do a lot of talking, partly because I don’t have the time, but also because these cobbled streets cast their own magic.  All you really need to do is follow.

Your first sight of the town, as you cross the bridge over Ribeira de Oeiras, is the castelo perched high above you.  It’s enough to whet your appetite.  There is parking on Estrada de Circunvalacao and from there Alves Redol leads quietly upwards, until you reach the viewing point in the photo above.  Below, tables are laid at a riverside restaurant and the Guadiana squirms away into the distance.

On Largo Vasco da Gama, the blue and white of ‘Casa Guadiana’ is tucked into a corner where you melt in summer.  Needing to stretch our legs first, we pass by the tiny Mercado and the Tourist Information centre. (where you can acquire a town map)  A remarkable walled street invites you to follow it’s contours.  Could you decline?

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The doors, balconies and mysterious chimneys captivate.  Each one a story in itself.  I stop to watch a lady shaking and pegging out a tablecloth. And then there’s the beautiful clock tower, Torre do Relogio.  Alluring, isn’t it?

Rua Combatentes da Grande Guerra follows the river.  Just another clue to the turbulent history reenacted here, in this serene and peaceful setting.

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I’ve passed by the Camara Municipal, with its stylish red balconies.  Red and ochre compliment the white so well, the shabby blending well with the chique.  Turning up Rua Dr. Antonio Jose de Almeida, I am but following my nose, not sure where to look next.

The decision is made for me when I spot this playful graffiti on a peeling wall.  Isn’t it beautiful?  And on the other side of the narrow street, an elegant vermilion door, with a single flower tucked into the window.  Never forget to look up too!  Overhead, ornate drain pipes open mouths wide.

Intent on the lovely distractions, almost without realising it you’ve climbed up to the castle walls and are looking down on the Oeiras tributary of the River Guadiana.  Time to inject a little history as we approach the castelo and the lovely Igreja Matriz.  The Mother Church began life back in the 8th century as a mosque.  In 1238, Christian knights conquered the town, led by Santiago ‘Mata Mouros’.(the Moor killer)  The Koran was replaced by the Bible, and the mosque converted to Nossa Senhora da Assuncao.  A keep was added to the castle, but the church retains its ‘mihrab’ (prayer niche) to this day.

New pathways and landscaped gardens have been added since I was here last, and a huge project is ongoing to excavate the ruins of the town and elaborate mosaics.  In May every odd year a Moorish festival takes place in Mertola.  I must ensure to attend in 2017 to inspect progress.

I peered with interest at the ruins and promised myself to find the site online when I got home.  Here it is.  For us it was time to head back down, past Igreja Matriz, and search out somewhere to relax.  Ever alert, my other half had noted a cafe at the back of the small Mercado.  ‘Cafetaria Manu’ has a tiny terrace overlooking the Guadiana, and you can buy cake or a simple sandwich to accompany an excellent glass of wine.

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From the eastern end of the Algarve, Mertola is easily reached on the virtually traffic free IC27, which leads north from Castro Marim. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and hope that you did too.

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This is a scheduled post and I won’t actually be home until Thursday, so I apologise if my responses are a little scanty at first.  I didn’t want to leave the gap between walks for too long, and needed to write this while it was fresh in my memory.  Thank you all for your lovely company and support. I only have a few shares this week but I’m hoping you’ve been saving them for my return.

As usual, details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Just click on the logo above.

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I’m starting with a lovely man in Hamburg and an unusual look at life – thanks, Tobias!

U3: Landungsbrucken- St. Pauli

A head for heights will help but is not essential to accompany Anabel, but money could be!

Toronto: an island walk

And Jackie tells me that Chinatown is great for food :

Spadina St

Geoff’s rambling again!  I think we should humour him, don’t you?

K is for Kensington and Khelsea #atozchallenge

This next is a bike ride so I’m afraid you’ll have to jog to keep up with Kathrin!

My weekly ramble

Hope this finds you happy and well.  I’ll be back in person soon.  Roving temporarily suspended….

G is for Guadiana

My next post seems to flow quite naturally from my recent trip across the Guadiana River.  More than 800 kilometres long, if you look at it on a map it’s very clear that the bulk of this river is in Spanish territory.  It rises in Castile-La Mancha and shortly after the Spanish city of Badajoz, turns south, forming the border with Portugal for most of the remainder of its length.

Guadiana’s origin- from Wikipedia Commons

It’s this southern area that I love, and with which I’m familiar.  The Guadiana glides out into the Atlantic Ocean.  At the river mouth a brief ferry ride connects Ayamonte on the Spanish side with Vila Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal.  The difference between the two cultures is tangible, and the time difference simply serves to accentuate this.  Unless you time it carefully you will frequently find that Ayamonte is engaged in a prolonged siesta when you arrive.  The elegantly tiled main square and pretty calles are still worth a stroll, but remember to switch to buenas dias when you order your tapas.

Main square, Ayamonte

A street corner in Ayamonte

Vila Real de Santo Antonio (as opposed to Vila Real in the north) is one of the architecturally more interesting towns in the Algarve.  Demolished by a tidal wave following the 1755 earthquake, it was rebuilt on a grid plan by the Marques de Pombal.  Using the same plan he had pioneered in Lisbon’s Baixa district, the rebuild was completed in just 5 months.  The attractive main square bears his name and is often the scene of lively cultural events.

I love to stroll along the mosaic tiled river bank, picking a favourite yacht from the dozens moored in the extensive marina.  4km to the north, the arcs of the bridge linking Portugal with Spain are clearly visible.  In summer a very pleasant boat trip can be taken up the Guadiana, to the Foz de Odeleite, where a restaurant and refreshing swimming pool await.

River front at Vila Real de Santo Antonio

The swift and often empty IC27 runs north from Vila Real to connect with Alcoutim, the next town along the river.  Alcoutim has a long history as a river port.  It was fortified by the Greeks, Romans and Arabs, and the commanding castle dates from the 14th century.  Not much battling goes on these days and Alcoutim is a delightfully sleepy spot to simply sit and stare.  Across the river, idyllic Sanlucar de Guadiana looks back.  If you can catch the small ferry, a wander through Sanlucar’s immaculate white streets is a lovely distraction.  Restoration is taking place on the castle ruins so that might prove a rewarding trip for the future.  The Romeria takes place the first weekend in May, for a feast of flamenco frocks. Just ask Flat Ruthie.  She’s been!

Alcoutim from the river

Sanlucar de Guadiana from the river bank at Alcoutim

The banks of the Guadiana are wonderful for walkers, and the riverside road back down towards Castro Marim, from Alcoutim to Guerreiros do Rio, is one of the loveliest I have ever driven.  For now though, continue north on the N122, over the border into the Alentejo.  Set high above the Guadiana, at Mertola, are the mighty ruins of yet another Moorish frontier castle.  The region is home to the rare black stork and little other than birdsong disturbs the peace, though copper was once mined locally.  At the top of the winding streets the mother church, Igreja Matriz, looks down.  Behind the altar on the eastern wall the mihrab (prayer niche) testifies to her former life as a mosque.

Mertola hilltop fortress and Igreja Matriz

North of Mertola the river carves through a deep gorge with limited access by road.  For intrepid types the reward is the Pulo do Lobo waterfall and some remarkable rock formations.

Despite a lot of opposition to the project initially, the Alqueva Dam today presents a serene surface.  It’s a developing market for gentle boating holidays.  The 250square metre reservoir was created by damming the Guadiana, causing substantial loss of natural habitat, not to mention the compulsory relocation of the hamlet of Luz.

One of the best vantage points for viewing this vast expanse of water is the tiny hilltop village of Monsaraz.  It has to be one of the most charismatic places I’ve found in Portugal, and believe me, I’ve found a few.  Within its fortress walls there is essentially just one street, Rua Direita, with a village square, two churches and a castle, topped by the Torre das Feiticeiras (witches tower).  Following Moorish occupation, it became a stronghold of the Knights Templar.  Strangely the fort now contains a small bullring, which comes into its own for the annual village celebrations.  The festive fireworks must be visible for miles.

The Guadiana from Monsaraz

Monsaraz, remote and interesting on a grey November day

From here the Guadiana continues north, swinging a right into Spain, through Badajoz and Merida, and is, sadly, lost to me.  This is, after all, my A-Z of Portugal.

If you would like to join Julie Dawn Fox’s My personal A-Z challenge, just follow the link or click on the banner below.  It doesn’t have to be about travel.  If your passion is food or books you can still join in.  We have an A-Z of Art on Alyson Sheldrake’s The Thought Palette and and lately an A-Z of Films by DML Designs.  Be as creative as you like.  Read my posts on my A-Z pages.  Hope you’ll enjoy!

Six word Saturday

Seeking new memories, in the Algarve

Castle walls, Lagos

Old harbour, Lagos

Mertola

Over the garden wall, Mertola

Another fountain candidate? Silves

Pego do Inferno

Cascades nearby Pego do Inferno

Grab a table at Mesa do Cume

Palace gardens, Estoi

Look, but don't touch! Vilamoura

Waterside at Cabanas

Easy to see why I keep going back, isn’t it?  I’ll be in the Algarve next week, making new memories to share, so I’ll miss the next Six week Saturday.  Why not join in with Cate?  Everybody’s got a story to share.  Follow the link to see what it’s all about.  You can click on the button below to see my previous posts, and I’ll look forward to seeing yours.