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Mertola is just around the corner.

Mertola is just around the corner.

I’m cycling around southern Portugal right now, but the breaks on my bicycle broke to pieces yesterday and I am now stuck here for a day or two extra, while I am finding some new brakes, but at least it’s one of the nicest places in Portugal to be stuck.

My broken bicycle in my hotel room.

My broken bicycle in my hotel room.

Mertola is kinda in the middle of nowhere.

The city walls of Mertola.

The city walls of Mertola.

Mertola sees surprisingly few foreign visitors, considering what a beautiful town it is. The problem is that it’s sort of stuck in the middle of nowhere, between Lisbon and the Algarve and trains are not passing through here either, so it tends to be a town than people skip, even if it should be one of the country’s top sights.

Portuguese medieval town at it's best.

Portuguese medieval town at it’s best.

Mertola has an islamic past.

Center of islamic studies in Mertola.

Center of islamic studies in Mertola.

Mertola is one of the towns in Portugal where you have the most remains from the time when the moors were occupying Portugal. The main church in town is in fact a former mosque and there is still an institute for islamic studies and an annual islamic festival, celebrating the islamic past of Mertola, even if the moors were driven out more than 800 years ago.

 

These days, Mertola is a typical Alentejo town that lives from farming, a bit of mining and is on the left of the political scale. And people are extremely laid back and jovial.

And you are almost the only tourist here.

And you are almost the only tourist here.

Mertola was once an independent state.

 

During the moorish period, Mertola broke away from the rest of the empire a couple of times and one sufi leader called Ibn Qasi even made an alliance with Alfonso Henriques, who was the first christian king of Portugal and this is maybe why the locals are celebrating it’s islamic past a little more than most other portuguese towns.

Keep calm, you are in Alentejo.

Keep calm, you are in Alentejo.

Mertola is the prettiest unknown town in Portugal if you ask me.

 

Today, Mertola is sitting on a hill, with the old moorish castle on top and the old city walls surrounding it, in a way that can only give you a WOW moment when you dive towards the town and see it for the first time, as you turn the last corner on the winding road towards this wonderful little medieval town.

Some of the streets are narrow.

Some of the streets are narrow.

So I will not be too unhappy to be stuck here for an extra with my bicycle, even if this is something that would normally really annoy me, cause this is rural Portugal at it’s very best.

Claus.

The main church in Mertola, build on top of what used to be a mosque.

The main church in Mertola, build on top of what used to be a mosque.

Statue of Ibn Qasi.

Statue of Ibn Qasi.

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