If you have never been to Mértola, then you are missing one of the most beautiful villages in all of Portugal. The place is unique - an open museum - and well worth the drive. Set in the Alentejo overlooking the Spanish border Mértola is home to 2,800 people living on a fortified hill overlooking the Guadiana River. This strategic spot made it an important port for thousands of year, and all it pervious inhabitants left something behind for us to explore today.
Today, perched high above the Guadiana, the cobbled streets of Mértola are a pleasure to explore. Its ancient castle crowns the whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets.
Perhaps the best place to understand this lovely village is its parish church, Our Lady of the Annunciation. Before being a church, its was a Roman temple. Then round 1100 a mosque was built. This is the only still standing ancient mosque in Portugal. Every 2 years (in May) Mértola host an Islamic Festival.
And now there is a museum under the church, which opened not long ago. Breaks down the layers , from the temple of the Romans to its Christianization.
The mosque/church is next to the castle, as Spain is right next door. The view of the walls is sweeping of the river, hills and nearby mountains. In the keep of the castle, one can find a set of architectural remains from the 6-9th centuries VI to IX century
Archaeological excavations began in the late 1970s to get an idea of the past of this ancient place. It turns out they found remains dating back to the Neolithic period, showing Mértola is much older than had been assumed. But, what is seen throughout the village are ruins of the Roman Mértola. Called Mírtilis Júlia, this was an important river port, with a view over the River Guadiana. When the Empire fell, the Visgoths took the town, and then it fell to the Moors, who called it Martulá. Under the Moors the town's thrived and it became the capital of an independent emirate, the Taifa of Mértola.
Next came Christian Reconquest and under King D. Sancho II of Portugal Mértola became Portuguese in 1238. And part of Portugal it has remained for centuries.
Mértola has a warm and temperate Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers as a result of the interior. Winters are mild and rainy.