Palmeral of Elche

Palmeral of Elche
Photo by Jan-Willem.

The Palmeral of Elche is an oasis-like landscape of date palms, transferred to Europe from North Africa by the Moors.

The artificial oasis was constructed during the Arab occupation of this area in Spain over 1,000 years ago and used well-known techniques from the Near East and the Sahara region to let the palm groves grow. The ancient irrigation system, which is still functioning, has been preserved as well.

Community Perspective: Elche has a 5km long Ruta del Palmeral which strings together the main places of interest such as the Palm Grove Museum, the Municipal Park and the botanical garden Huerto del Cura. Additionally, Hubert has described several huertos that have been preserved in such a way that you can still recognise their agricultural function. 

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Hubert

Austria - 19-Apr-24 -

Palmeral of Elche by Hubert

The visit to this WHS left me with mixed impressions and I was unsure how to rate this WHS. The Palmeral has an impressive size, with the core zone covering 144 hectares. It is unique in Europe and "a remarkable example of the transference of a characteristic landscape from one culture and continent to another" (quoted from the justification criterion ii). However, the original layout as an agricultural landscape is no longer visible in large parts of the inscribed area.

The palm groves (huertos) were planted in the 10th century when the region, named Al-Andalus, was under Muslim rule. The Palmeral saw its greatest extension at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. Since then, the economic importance of date cultivation has declined, industrialisation and increasing urban sprawl have severely affected the agricultural landscape. New roads and railway lines have dissected the formerly contiguous area. Hotels, residential buildings, schools and other public facilities have been built in some of the abandoned huertos. Even a railway station with its large car park is part of the core zone. As a result, the original alignment of the palm trees in a grid-pattern along the irrigation canals has often been destroyed. The intention was to preserve the palm trees, not the agrosystem of the huertos
This can best be seen in the Municipal Park. A beautiful park with all the usual facilities and of course full of palm trees, but that is the only difference to similar parks in other cities. The botanical garden Huerto del Cura is also beautiful and worth a visit. But neither has anything to do with the layout of the original agricultural landscape, which, together with the irrigation system, makes up the OUV of this site. Plans to preserve and reconstruct the original state only began at the end of the 20th century, especially after the inscription in 2000.

But of course there are also huertos that have been preserved in such a way that you can recognise their agricultural function. The best examples can be found along the Camino Almanzana in the southern part of the core zone: Huerto de Almazara, Huerto de Los Pontos and Huerto de Rogeta. The Huerto de Almanzana was recently renovated, the walls have been renewed and the irrigation canals are working. In the neighbouring Huerto de los Pontos, restoration work is still underway but was almost completed when I visited in March 2024. A typical rural farmhouse built in 1900 can be visited there (open on  weekends, free entry). The Huerto de Rogeta is still waiting for some maintenance. Unfortunately, many corners here are dirty, with beer cans and plastic rubbish lying around, and not just recently. More regular cleaning would certainly be advisable here. In this neighbourhood you will also find some special palm trees, such as the almost horizontally leaning La Pipa Real (in the Huerto de Almanzana) or La Pipa de Sempere (in the homonymous huerto, photo).
The Huerto de la Torre in the north of the city is also largely preserved in its original layout. The Torre de Vaillo there is open to visitors at weekends. And I would also recommend a visit to the Palm Grove Museum. The tools and clothing of the palm workers are on display, but the museum mainly consists of information boards from which you can learn all about the history of the palmeral, date cultivation and date harvest.

Despite my critical comments, I really enjoyed my visit to the Palmeral of Elche. I hope that the restoration of the preserved huertos will continue and that more of the privately owned properties can be made accessible to the public. If larger areas were preserved in their original agricultural layout, my rating would certainly be higher.


Clyde

Malta - 25-Mar-16 -

Palmeral of Elche by Clyde

I visited this WHS in March 2016. I spent 2 nights in Elche and a full day exploring the different parts of the Palmeral. The whole Ruta del Palmeral is around 5km but it is quite worthwhile as there are a number of cafes or benches to stop to relax or grab a coffee. It starts and ends at the Huerto de San Plácido which has a Unesco sign and a map of the trail next to the entrance. In all there are 20 groves with a total of 200,000 trees and 70,000 date palm trees. Some are relatively new and are not part of the inscription. The best viewpoint is opposite the bridge next to the Palacio De Altamira moorish fortress and the blue-domed Basilica de Santa Maria. Although when walking the trail, the Palmeral seems like a huge park or garden, it was originally a plantation with an agriculture purpose, and thus its plots (huerta) are referred to as groves. Each of the groves is flanked by rows of date palm trees, in such a way that, when viewed from the air, they form a grid pattern. The origins of the palm grove date back to the tenth century, when the Arabs relocated the city to its current site. During the Ruta del Palmeral you'll visit the Palm Grove Museum which will help to give you a context to better appreciate the site. Moreover, you will see several palm trees with different shapes and forms, mainly at the municipal park (free) and the Huerta del Cura (5 euro entrance fee), a botanical garden with several cacti, peacocks and other birds. The most popular one is the 7 branched Imperial Palm tree (picture) which is almost 200 years old. Recently the red palm weevil parasite killed as much as 20,000 palm trees in Elche and one of the 7 branches of the Imperial Palm tree had to be trimmed off. However, authorities seem to have kept the situation under control and slowly but surely more palm trees will grow. The Palmeral of Elche is quite unique in Europe and is the northernmost of its kind worldwide. The Huerta del Cura reminded me of the Yves Saint Laurent Gardens in Marrakech which have a better cacti collection. Overall, I failed to grasp the OUV of this site even though it's worth visiting if your nearby.


Klaus Freisinger

Austria - 18-Sep-12 -

This is a really interesting and unique site to visit - a true oasis in a very desert-like landscape in southeastern Spain. The moment you step out of Elche's train station, you are surrounded by palms of all kinds, shapes and sizes. The Municipal Park between the station and the tourist office features a large variety, but the most important and famous sight of Elche is the Huerto del Cura, a very nice botanic garden with ponds, statues, etc. The nearby San Placido garden includes a small, but interesting museum about the history and biology of the palm trees. Elche is quite a pleasant city with several interesting sights in the Old Town. If you have been to Granada and the Alhambra already, you have seen the major testament to the Arabs' centuries-long occupation of the Iberian peninsula. The Palmeral is probably the second-most important Arab monument in Europe, and definitely worth a visit.


John booth

New Zealand - 30-Mar-10 -

After exiting the Elx Parc station and visiting the Tourist Office, I followed the walking tour described in their pamphlet, around the Parc del Filet de Fora. Here I found trees and aflaj (irrigation channels) similar to those in Oman and Al Ain (UAE). About two thirds of the way around the tour I stopped for an excellent salad lunch at the Santa Fe cafe.


David Berlanda

Italy / Czech Republic - 01-May-05 -

Palmeral of Elche by David Berlanda

In our trip to Spain we have been to the Palmeral of Elche, the most important complex of date palm groves in Europe, laid out by the Arab Muslims at the end of the 10th century as an oasis, a system of agricultural production in arid areas. The city of Elche and its centre are completely surrounded on the east by an incredibly large and continuous area of palm trees (some higher than 30 metres and older than 300 years), interrupted only by main traffic roads. The palms are everywhere, touching the houses of the outskirts and also inserting in the middle of them.

First we stopped at the Tourist Office where they have many information about the Palmeral, near which there are beautiful views of this “sea of palms” from the bridges over the river Vinalopó.

In the middle of the Palmeral there are four places, of which we have seen two, regarded as the most interesting features, mainly parks. First we went to the Municipal Park: here you can have a pleasant walk on gravelly paths in the middle of palms. The small park is laid out exactly like an urban garden with all its facilities, with palms combined with a lot of other species of plants, often flowering, situated in modern flower-beds.

Then we have been to the Huerto del Cura, a park similar to the Municipal one, but finer and comparable to a small botanical garden (the ticket for which is highly overpriced – 5 Euro), also with palms combined with other species of plants (cactuses, flowers…), but containing also fountains, statues, modern sculptures... The most interesting feature is the Imperial Palm, more than 200 years old, the trunk of which is separated into 7 arms.

However this garden design of the palm groves as urban parks or botanical gardens is seen by me as diminishing the authenticity of the Palmeral, although enhancing its state of conservation. However the major part of the Palmeral isn’t constituted by decorative palms, but by those used for the production of dates or palm leaves, laid out in polygonal plots bounded by fences and irrigated by canals. This arrangement is probably original and unchanged from the Arab times, so it is much more authentic than that of the parks; but it is clearly difficult to maintain them in a good state of conservation and keep them clean and you can see this in place. However, in my opinion, this type of grove is really the most interesting feature of the Palmeral.

There is also a 2,5 km long itinerary between this palm groves, starting from the Huerto de San Placido in front of the Huerto del Cura, about which you can find information and maps in the Tourist Office and on the Spanish web page http://www.turismedelx.com/es/rutas/2/. However, we have seen only a small part of this because it was raining.

This WHS is certainly not a classical type of destination for a tourist or a place where one could see extraordinary features, but it is much original and specific and especially for this reason it was interesting. It is not worthy of a long travel for visiting specifically it, but certainly it is worthy of a visit if you are in Spain for a longer holiday. It certainly justifies its inscription on the WHL not only because it is the largest palm grove in Europe, but above all because it is the only case of transposition of an agricultural system from one continent and culture to another one.

In the picture you can see some palms in the original palm groves and the delimitations of the plots on the ground.


Site Info

Full Name
Palmeral of Elche
Unesco ID
930
Country
Spain
Inscribed
2000
Type
Cultural
Criteria
2 5
Categories
Human activity - Agriculture
Link
By ID

Site History

2000 Inscribed

1999 Deferred

Bureau - concern about heterogeneous nature of sites. Needs a smaller contiguous nomination

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The site has 1 locations

Palmeral of Elche

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4matcha A. Mehmet Haksever Afshin Iranpour Ajmoya Alessandro Votta Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Alikander99 Allan & Lucia Allanmc Allison Vies Ammon Watkins Ana Lozano Andrea & Uwe Zimmermann Andrew Wembridge Antonio J. Argo Artur Anuszewski Atila Ege Bazikoln Bin Birgitte Sørensen Bodil Ankerly Caminographer Carlos Garrido Carlosaganzo Carstenhansen Caspar Dechmann CharlieN Christian Wagner Claire Bradshaw Clyde Craig Harder Dan Dan Pettigrew Daniel C-Hazard Daniela Hohmann David Aaronson & Melanie Stowell David Berlanda Dibro Dimitar Krastev Donnico Dorejd Elia Vettorato Elindomiel Els Slots Emilia Enrique Clemente Erik Jelinek FGKJR1492X Fan Yibo Feldhase Femke Roos Filip Murlak Frank Britton Frankwsolak Gary Arndt Garyrjtaylor Geo GeorgeIng61 Gernot Gill Colman Gonçalo Elias Gwythyr Hadrianus Handballrama Harald T. Harry Mitsidis Hidalgo Hidalgo Hubert Iain Jackson Ian Cade Itahue Ivan Rucek J Mitchell James Bowyer Jan-Willem Jasam Jaynew Jeanne OGrady Jens Jezza Joel on the Road John booth Jon Eshuijs Jonas Hagung Jonas Kremer Jos? Segura Jose Jose Antonio Collar Josie Borst Jrsbrgmn Judith Tanner Junwang111 Juropa K.rekaa Kasienka5 Kelly Henry Klaus Freisinger Lara Adler Loic Pedras Lois Dekker Lorenzo Mejino Lucia Luis Filipe Gaspar Luisfreire Lukasz Palczewski Luki501 M. Huineman de la Cuadra MHL Maciej Gowin Maki Wang Markus Martina Rúčková Martinacurra88 Mateusz Matthewsharris Michael Novins Michiel Dekker Mike Mikko Milan Jirasek Nan Napalm Nihal Ege Nikolamus Nomad99 Olli-Pekka Turunen PabloNorte Pascal Cauliez Patphilly Patricia1972 Patrik Paul Schofield Persian Globetrotter Peter Lööv Petteri Philipp Leu Philipp Peterer Polyommatus_icarus Q Ralf Regele Randi Thomsen Reza RobbyBob Robin Frank Roger Ourset Rom Roman Bruehwiler Roman Koeln Sabrina Liebehentschel Sachin Sazanami Schnitzel Scubarrie Shandos Cleaver Solivagant Sophie Stanislaw Warwas Stefan Loov Stefania Giudice Stijn Super-Sophie Svein Elias Szucs Tamas Tamara Ratz Tangopium Tarquinio_Superbo Thibault Magnien Thomas Buechler Thomas Harold Watson Thomas van der Walt TimAllen Tom Flaten Triath Trine Valeron4ever Vanessa Buechler Vladimir Voyager WILLIAM RICH Walter Walter H. Wang Qin Werner Huber Wojciech Fedoruk Wolfgang Hlousa WolfgangHl Wtrentfox Xiong Wei Zoë Sheng