With strong regional roots in Mértola's culture and heritage, the Mértola Islamic Festival has its basis in the archaeological work carried out on Mértola's heritage, particularly with reference to the Islamic period, carried out, since the end of the 1970s, by the technical team of the Mértola Archaeological Site, in partnership with the Municipality and other local and national community and academic bodies.

The study of the Islamic Period in Portugal, at the time of the first archaeological studies in the Alcázar of the castle of Mértola, was practically non-existent. The importance and abundance of archaeological finds discovered in the course of studies carried out until then, and which have been extended throughout the town’s historic area until the present day, had a crucial role in the knowledge of this historic period, emphasising the strategic importance of the ancient city of Mértola, which was in that period a trading post providing access to the “Mediterranean world.”

During the Islamic period, Mértola reinforced its position as the westernmost port of the Mediterranean region, reaching the peak of its trading position and becoming an important meeting point for different cultures. At no other point in history did Mértola have such strategic importance. Because of all this, it was but natural that in 2001, the 1st Mértola Islamic Festival was organised as part of the Municipality's schedule of events.

The initiative, with the support of several bodies, greatly exceeded its initial academic, scientific, museographical, cultural and pedagogical aims, and has increasingly, over the following years, taken the shape of a tourist event, with a strong impact on the local and regional economy.