Mertola is a small, walled town on a hillside next to the River Guadiana at the edge of the Algarve, and topped with a castle. This was the most northerly trading town on the river, used by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, who were followed by the Romans and then the Moors (for 500 years) before this strategically placed town was retaken by the Portuguese in the 13C.
The Castle is at the highest point of the town, built by the Moors. Ibn Qasi was a 12C ruler, born in Silves, who controlled Mertola as an independent state, breaking away from the ruling Almoravid Moor dynasty, a move which led to his assassination in 1147. He seems to have been a quite extraordinary man.
Under the walls an interesting ongoing excavation reveals the plan and living conditions of the town in previous centuries, including a 6C Baptistry.
The Parish Church was once a Mosque and the Mihrab is still clear.
The Islamic Art Museum in Mertola and worth visiting.
Outside the town, and upriver, there are traditional mills at Azenhas do Rio on the River Guadiana. The mills date to the Mediaeval period and stretched across the river, from one bank to the other.
And from Mertola we drove down the Guadiana to Aljustrel, and then on to Faro to fly back to the UK – a wonderful few days in Portugal, as always, and I am already looking forward to the return visit.
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