Friday, 12 August 2016

Mértola, echoes of an Arab heart

A journey through the "possibility of a dialogue between worlds, crossing destinations beyond gratuitous violence"

the crescent that marks the end of fasting
is shining in its face
Ibn as-Sîd

The trip had been planned, but not this chronicle.

If she, the trip, was intended to verify the hypothesis of a narrative – "Beirut, a crossroads of destinations" – Mértola being the axis that would allow the connection to that Mediterranean city, this chronicle is born from the urgent need of the given time, a week after Brussels’ attacks.

The Hospedaria Flor do Guadiana, a modern and comfortable facility located on the northern border of town, at about ten minutes from the center, was the chosen one for the stay; and the center, in Mértola, may coincide with the boundary between the "new town" and the "old town", the inner space which relates to al-Andalus.

26th March, Saturday

At the Largo do Guadiana square (of Vasco da Gama, according to the village toponymy), left to the coffee shop from which the name is taken, there’s the market; and it's between the Guadiana coffee shop and the market with a view to the other Guadiana, the River, that one enters the "old village".

The journey will lead to Rua da Igreja street, which features two interesting places: the Casa de Mértola – replica of the typical village house – and the Oficina de Tecelagem, a manufacturing and exhibition space of wool pieces with regional motifs entangled with Mediterranean memories.

Up the street is the Castle, on the right, and further more to the right, the Parish Church. But today is a day to turn your back on the sacred and take the Elias Garcia street, which descends along the walls and leads to the Islamic Studies Centre, which, in addition to the library of more than sixty thousand documents, welcomes researchers to whom academic and logistic support is provided.

Nearby the Studies Centre, there’s a museum of Islamic Art with a collection that witnesses the Islamic presence, of which we can highlight the model of a mosque with five naves. Following the Combatentes da Grande Guerra street is the Clock Tower, structure of the late sixteenth century which lays on the ancient turret of the walls, like a lighthouse for navigation, and from where a flight of stairs connecting to the river and the reminiscences of the River Tower, a true power symbol in what regards the defense of Mértola, illustrating, now as a memory, the importance of the river as a connecting link between the Peninsula and the Oriental Mediterranean. And that’s here, by the river, in this late afternoon, that an immense silence, only shattered by brief echoes, recalls with surprise the Douro, in this dense and suspended environment, here framed by the voice of poets:

this is the river and these are its groves:
whose soul is the breeze of the gardens,
if the breeze sleeps at the surface,
if the winds above it are disturbed.
Ibn al-A'lam ash-Shantamarî

27th March, Easter Sunday

These verses offer a peaceful horizon, an almost abandoned one, tied to a latent violence, sudden affirmation of a will that is either free on the edge of life itself; it is its echo that, starting from the Largo do Guadiana square, points the direction of the acropolis.

Before the Parish Church, to the left, lies the Castle, power symbol which rises its highness on the horizon; memories of the Reconquest that, right beside it, in the church, coincide with those grounded in other memories, of Islam; in these times of resurrection, it is the liturgical space itself that will allow to think of the relationship between two views of the world which coincided for centuries and which resulted in this "Arab heart" that echoes in Mértola.

It’s time for the Easter celebration and this moment offers a unique perspective: believers pray before the cross and also before what remains of the mirhab; that is, in these times marked by the recent violence lived in Brussels, it’s possible to see Christians praying facing... Mecca. Astounding! Astounding and revealing of that osmosis which was felt outside, by the river, of that possibility of dialogue and openness to what appears as radically different.

What remains is the visit to the citadel, a replica of an Islamic house, and down again towards the river, crossing the slope characterized by terraces (once more, the Douro) in a thicket of streets which culminates in the Praça Luís de Camões square, flooded by a morning atmosphere, almost intoxicating given the intensity of the orange blossoming perfume; and again, the voice of the poets:

and in the urge of the trip
lo and behold, finally,
I left…
Ibn Darrâj al-Qastallî

Before leaving, visit the gardens of São Francisco Convent, owned by the Dutch couple of artists Christiaan and Geraldine Zwanikken, an ideal space for a quiet late afternoon.

This chronicle, while confirming the hypothesis required by the narrative that originated it raised, also intends to be a witness to the possibility of a dialogue between worlds, crossing destinations beyond the gratuitous violence: re-ligare – Mértola-Beirut.

Note: the above verses were taken from Adalberto Alves book, O meu coração é árabe (3rd edition, Assírio & Alvim, Lisboa, 1999), publication to which the title of this very chronicle much owes.

Source: Fugas

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