A fun day trip to a Roman and Islamic Historical town in the middle of the Guadiana Valley National Park, located near the border of Spain and about an hour north of the coast.
I felt like I traveled back in time and landed in Morocco as I strolled the streets of Mertola. The Arabic influence could be seen in the keyhole shaped doors and brilliant colors. Design touches with stars, mosaics and lattice work added extra historic touches to the homes and buildings.
I love the history here in Portugal and this town doesn’t disappoint as it’s origins date back to the Phoenician times.
The town played an important part of the Mediterranean trade routes until the end of the 12th Century.
When the Romans ran it they called it “Myrtilis”, and then it passed into the hands of the Arabs. Conquered in the reign of D. Sancho II, it became the first mother house of the order of Santiago in 1238.
Strolling the streets you’ll notice a variety of museums pop up around each corner. There are over 10 museums in this town and ongoing archaeological studies continue to uncover more of the past. Stop into the information center just past the city gates and pick up a free map so you can find the different sections of the Mertola Museum.
The main church next to the castle used to be a mosque during the 12th and 13th centuries, even though it is now a Cahristian Church they’ve kept important historical elements. It’s doors have horseshoe shaped arches and there is a Mihrab which points to the direction of Mecca remaining from the Islamic occupation.
Keep your eyes open for hidden gems like this little cafe in the back of a large shop. A cold beer and view of the river is a great reward for poking around the town.
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants around the town and parking can be found along the streets or a large structure when you enter the town from highway 122.
I’m the town was easy to find with our cell navigation apps and it was an easy drive from the Algarve on beautiful roads.