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.
Mertola is kinda in the middle of nowhere.
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.
Mertola has an islamic past.
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.
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.
Mertola is the prettiest unknown town in Portugal if you ask me.