Mértola is a village in the district of Beja, in the southernmost point of the province of Baixo Alentejo, which is located at the confluence of the Oeiras Creek with Guadiana River. It has an enormous historical heritage, comprising traces of different periods.
The National Commission for UNESCO has already included the village in its map of locations that fulfill the requirements to become a world heritage site.
The origins of Mértola date back to the Phoenicians, who established an important trading center, as the site was located in the last navigable stretch of Guadiana. It was the marketplace for the pottery of Beja and the ore of Aljustrel and São Domingos. For centuries, it had trade contacts with ports of the eastern Mediterranean. During the Roman and Arab occupations, the importance of this river port was always maintained.
The Roman called it Myrtilis and the Arab used the name Mirtolah. The latter built the defensive walls over the Roman constructions.
The Muslim influence was really strong in the country’s south, with an occupation that lasted almost 500 years.
The museum of Mértola is the biggest in Europe among the ones which only exhibit pieces of Islamic art.
The Reconquista took place in 1238 and the knights of Santiago conquered the city. The existing mosque was changed in order to be adapted to a Christian temple. Today it’s the Mother Church, the Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção de Mértola.
Currently, it’s still possible to see some elements of the Mother Church’s original history, such as the horseshoe arch doors or the mirhab. It’s the only remaining Arab religious site preserved in Portugal.
I love Alentejo. I was born in Algarve, I live in Lisbon, my roots are located in Beira, but without any sort of doubt Alentejo is my favorite region in Portugal. Its landscapes and the peacefulness that you can feel are outstanding.
Mértola is a quiet village of this Alentejo that I adore so much, where time just runs slow. I’ve been there a few times and I will do it again…
This subject was suggested by Carla Miranda, a dear friend. Thank you!