Mértola’s Archaeological Site began its activities in the Castle’s citadel. Since 1978 we brought to light a dense necropolis from the Late Middle Ages, an intricate Islamic quarter and an impressive paleo-christian religious complex that integrates a crypto-porticus, a 6th century baptistery and an interesting collection of mosaics with strong Byzantine influence.
Recently, this area has been the focus of a recovery and conservation project, which will allow visiting the entire area from an overhead walkway.
In the context of the underway landscaping work, Mértola’s Archaeological Site organised two excavation campaigns in the Castle of Mértola, in 1996 and 2006 respectively. With these initiatives, remains from several periods of the building’s indoor life were uncovered, of which stand out interesting structures and artefacts approximately from the year 1000.
The archaeological intervention at the Mosque/Church of Mértola is a part of its recovery work initiated by IPPAR in 2003. This survey intended to find possible structural problems and ascertain the source of the moisture that was damaging the original 12th century stucco, as well as the causes for the collapsing of part of the churchyard’s pavement. This intervention was also useful in determining the overall stratigraphy of the monument’s subsoil and the existence of structures predating the Almohad mosque.
In 2003, 2005 and 2006 Mértola’s Archaeological Site was commissioned by the local authority to conduct archaeological excavations in the Municipal Library’s area of expansion. These studies revealed traces of a ceramic furnace from the early Modern period, a burial site from the Late Middle Ages and a series of Islamic dwellings, above layers dating back to the Roman Republic period and the Iron Age.
Of the more significant findings, we highlight a wall, possibly from the early Roman period, as well as a turret of great monumentality, which is in reasonable condition, as well as another wall from the Iron Age, which still hasn’t been accurately dated. In this area of the town, within the medieval walled enclosure, never before had been found reliable stratigraphic levels of the Roman Republic period and the Iron Age, which underlines the importance of discovering these structures in the town’s entrance area.
The House of the “Lanternim”, current headquarters of the Guadiana Valley Natural Park, located in Mértola’s historic centre, was the focus of archaeological interventions carried out in several campaigns (1994, 2002, 2003 and 2004) in the context of the building’s recovery and rehabilitation project.
In addition to the archaeological interventions carried out inside the building, some construction monitoring works were also performed by a team from Mértola’s Archaeological Site. This is a perfectly delimited space, whose archaeological intervention was developed as a part of the historic centre’s reorganisation through the recovery of an important building for architectural and local history reasons. This intervention provided a huge amount and variety of materials with a timeline that spans from the 8th century BC to the 20th century AD. The study of this site and of the exhumed materials was supported by the Foundation for Science and Technology under a Research and Development Project (2005/2007).
At Monte Mosteiro (Mount Monastery), about 25 km from the town of Mértola, there is a building that, by its architectural features, is identifiable as a small place of worship. Its main axis follows the East-West orientation, which is common in Christian temples. The monument consists of two spaces: the apsed presbytery and the rectangular main body, both structures of stone and mortar, coated with the latter material. Archaeological research conducted in the building’s vicinity has uncovered mosaic remains from the Roman period and a cluster of graves carved in stone. Within the chapel many child burials were found. The building has undergone a process of conservation and restoration to repair existing issues, in order to regain its original features and to host a small interpretation centre. Both students from ALSUD Professional School and CAM technicians participated in the excavation and restoration process.
Outside the wall, along the road that joined Mértola to Beja, a large necropolis from the Paleo-christian and Islamic eras is currently under study. Under Muslim rule, this place has kept its funerary purposes. The “almocávar”, an Arabic word for “cemetery”, spanned from the Rossio do Carmo to the town’s walls. The Islamic necropolis of Mértola is one of the major known burial sites in the Gharb al-Ândalus. In the vicinity of the Rossio do Carmo, the excavation of a still untouched area of the Islamic necropolis is currently the subject of a new research project.
The results of the archaeological work within the Marquês Duque cinema and theatre allowed us to ascertain that in this place, during Late Antiquity (5th-7th centuries AD), there was another Paleo-christian cemetery, of which more than 30 graves were discovered. It is likely that this was merely an extension of the cemetery of Rossio do Carmo, or that another ancient Christian sanctuary existed there before. In the 17th century, the chapel of St. Anthony of Fisherman was founded in this place. It was a small shrine with a single nave, and a lowered, inconspicuous and well-oriented presbytery. This small chapel should have served the community related with fishing and river navigation. It was destroyed in 1917 and replaced with the current theatre room, which to this day maintains its façade.
The private expansion work of Beira-Rio Guest House led to excavations in the area of its yard performed by a team from Mértola’s Archaeological Site. This excavation brought to light a residential area (suburb or living quarters) from the Islamic period (10th-12th centuries AD). The archaeological investigation allowed us to recognize some urban planning, with well-structured streets, plumbing and sewage systems. Some evidence suggests that in addition to the residential area there were also some productive activities taking place.
In 2008, the redevelopment of the town’s commercial centre led, as expected, to the discovery of important archaeological remains. Two cemeteries were uncovered: the incineration necropolis discovered during the opening of one of the trenches in the Alves Redol Street, near the post office, and the burial necropolis at Dr. Serrão Martins Street, in which was uncovered an important set of graves related to a paleo-christian church (5th-8th centuries AD) that, in a way, is the extension of the necropolis of the Marquês Duke theatre.
In addition to these important remains we highlight a turret built of solid stone and mortar, which Duarte D'Armas, on his visit to Mértola in early 16th century, represented as a "watchman." The construction works and the archaeological interventions are both still under way at several parts of the streets.