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A Little Town Called Mértola
Past and Present
When you are turning 69 and have everything, what do you ask for? Denise asked that we return to Mértola. So we did.
Our First Visit
Our first visit had been about a month earlier when we had guests visiting from the States. Friends had told us that Mértola was a lovely little town with a wonderful castle and magnificent views. It only took one hour to drive there … the roads are very lightly trafficked. We noted the walled city in front of us as we came around a bend. Ever cautious of driving within a walled city, we decided to park at the first empty lot we found.
We walked up a cobblestoned hill, traversing narrow, winding streets. We noted that many of the front doors to the homes would require anyone over 5’6” to bend over to enter. It was a Saturday and when we took note of a restaurant that appeared to have an excellent view of the river, we stopped. We enjoyed a bottle of wine and a fabulous lunch1.
Our Second Visit
We saw just enough on our first visit to make us want to return.2 Denise took charge of the reservations: we stayed at the Hotel Museu and once again dined at the Espaço Vila Velha - Restaurante e Tapas.
I took charge of the research. I learned that Mértola, like much of Portugal traces its past to the Romans, the Visigoths, and the Muslim invasion. However, it was not until the 1970s that the town really started to explore its long history. Prior to this, copper mining was the town’s economic engine. In fact, in the 1950s nearly 30,000 people lived in the municipality. However, in 1966 the mine was closed. The population of the municipality declined by 45% over the next decade. Today, the municipality reports 6300 residents, and the town just 2500.
Since 1980, the small town has focused on tourism. In fact, the little town has one of the more advanced tourist sites I have explored. By perusing the site, we learned that the Honey, Cheese, and Bread Festival was being celebrated on Denise’s birthday. While we didn’t know what to expect, we were certain it would be worth a visit.
If You Visit
If you visit, stop by the tourism office first. There you will find English-speaking hosts that are anxious to assist you in your planning. We followed the trail of small museums that offer Sacred Art, Islamic Art, Weaving, a Basilica, a replica of a traditional turn of the century home, a Roman house, and an Islamic house. I learned that Islamic homes were the first to have indoor latrines…not sure if that will come up in the next pub quiz, but interesting nonetheless.
We also stopped at the Town Hall. We cautiously asked the receptionist, “Ruins?” She pointed to a staircase leading to the basement and a small collection of Roman ruins.
And of course, we toured the Castle.
While I can’t imagine growing up or living in such a place, I wonder what it would be like. Knowing each and every one of your neighbors. Coming together for dinner and music on a Friday night. Gathering to celebrate honey, cheese, and bread. And trying a totally new approach in hopes of maintaining the town and life you knew as a child.
Até à próxima semana, pergunto-me
An Update on Last Week’s Post: Over the past week we pursued two different solutions to last week’s challenge. First, with Ana’s help we downloaded the Certidão from the Finanças site showing Denise’s VRSA address. This has been scanned and emailed to IMT. Second, we visited the local Junta de Freguesia3 (Parish Council) office. There we provided documentation (deed, escritura. and tax bill) to prove that we live in VRSA. After paying a modest €2,95 per person fee, and returning 24 hours later, we picked up a document that proves we live here. If “column A” doesn’t work, we will have “column B” all ready to go. 🤞
We ended up in conversation with a young couple seated next to us. She was Australian and he was Portuguese. They had just returned from Australia to take up roots in VRSA. She will soon be offering Zumba classes twice a week in our small town. Small world!
As Mértola is a bit inland it is warmer…you may want to visit in early March. We were there the last weekend in April and it was quite warm.
I walked past this building dozens of times, having no idea what its government function might be. I still don’t know everything that it is responsible for.