Blog TWHS Visits
Mértola, a possible WHS for 2022 or 2023, was the last stop on my short trip by rental car through the north and center of Portugal last month. The town is located just like Vila Viçosa in the Alentejo region. I drove there via a quiet back road, where you’re allowed to drive 90 kilometers per hour. The largely uninhabited landscape is pretty with its cork oaks and olive trees, with some cows here and there that apparently can tolerate the heat.
On the last kilometers before Mértola I suddenly saw a remarkable warning sign: beware of devils? Of bats? A bit further on there was a textual explanation: the animal head represents a Lynx. It turns out that Iberian lynxes have been reintroduced in this area in recent years. The life of one of those already ended under a car and local authorities apparently wanted to prevent further damage. Not that it kept the Portuguese drivers from speeding though.
Mértola used to be an important river port. Already in ancient times it was inhabited by Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans. They took advantage of its strategic hillside location on the navigable Guadiana River. It held this position when the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. The Muslims built a castle and a mosque there. For a long time, Mértola was an independent Islamic empire that had to defend itself against Arab and Christian neighbors.
The mosque dates from the 12th century and later was converted into a Christian church, keeping its original architecture. I visited the town on a Sunday afternoon, unfortunately then (and on Mondays) the castle and the mosque-church are closed. There are also excavations to be seen from the Roman and Arab times. From behind the fence they looked very limited, there are a few fragments of mosaics which might be of interest.
The area reputedly is also very good for hiking, but in mid-July when I visited it was much too hot for that. Even at 6pm, it still felt like walking into a suffocating blanket. I spent the afternoon at the pool of my hotel, from where I had a good view of life on and along the river. I saw a man walking his goats and a single speedboat raced across the water. Freight transport no longer seems to be using this river.
In the absence of other entertainment I joined 7 Portuguese at 10am the next morning to make a one hour boat trip on the river. That was of course much too late to see any activity of birds or anything else. But we did see a few overjoyed pigs that were allowed by their owner to dive into the river. The best thing about the trip on the river however was the approach to the town of Mértola, with its imposing castle that protrudes above everything. In earlier times, skippers must have really had the feeling that they arrived at an important place.
Els - 5 August 2020