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New Mosaic of Mértola

After the heat of the summer, the gods favoured us, says Virgílio Lopes, researcher at Mértola’s Archaeological Camp (CAM), in jest. As part of the ongoing excavation, conservation and enhancement work, an extraordinary mosaic was identified in July, close to the two baptisteries known since 2013, on the slope of the castle. ‘Mértola has the power to surprise us and reveal new features‘, says the archaeologist. The 5-by-4-metre mosaic may be extended into the area adjacent to the village’s cemetery. It was designed for an interior space that the CAM team believes could be a chapel integrated in an Early Christian religious complex, ‘a world that followed the Roman period, but in which Mértola maintained cultural and religious relevance, even without a bishop‘.

In the 19th century, archaeologist Estácio da Veiga identified the fragment of a turtle or terrapin in the same area and had it drawn in watercolour. The piece was lost, but the record remained. ‘Today, we are convinced that Estácio found part of this mosaic, because the medallion with the piece fits this programme‘, says Lopes. ‘And in turn, this mosaic is a ‘sibling’ of another one already found above the cryptoporticus. It was produced by the same group of artists. This figuration has parallel ones in Menorca, and Virgílio Lopes believes that the inspiration for the mosaic, tentatively dated from the 6th century, came from the Eastern Mediterranean. ‘It is the period for which we have more gravestones, many of which are written in Greek‘, he says. ‘It could have been that community that commissioned an artistic programme like this, which reflects the best that was then being done in the Mediterranean basin.

The mosaic has already undergone ‘conservation and restoration first aid’ and is awaiting a decision on how it can be best protected and displayed.

Text: Gonçalo Pereira / Photos: António Cunha / Drone photos: CAM / National Geographic Magazine, October 2022.

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