The Palmeral of Elche

The Palmeral of Elche, The Largest Palm Grove in Europe

The Palmeral de Elche (Huertos de Palmeras de Elche), is a large palm grove in Elche, Spain, 30 kilometres away from Alicante.

It is the largest palm grove in Europe, encompassing around 500 hectares, and one of the largest in the world, second only to the Arabian palm fields. 2 The dominant species is the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), which was introduced by Muslims during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. On November 30, 2000, UNESCO designated the Palmeral de Elche as a World Heritage Site.

The Palmeral de Elche is a remarkable cultural environment of exceptional value and worldwide significance; it is the center, geared to intense horticulture, of an irrigation system created a millennium ago by the founders of the Islamic city of Elche.

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The Palmeral de Elche 4

This irrigated landscape of Andalusian origin contains both traditional and contemporary elements. Its evolution over time may be seen in changes in land use (from traditional agricultural uses to modern urban uses) and changes in agricultural productivity (cultivation of traditional species together with recently introduced species).

The Palmeral de Elche 6
View of the Palmeral from the Altamira Palace in Elche

More than 200,000 palm trees

Elche’s palm grove is Europe’s largest, with over 200,000 specimens and another 50,000 in municipal nurseries waiting to be planted. Although it appears to be a forest from a distance, it is actually a plantation designed for agricultural uses, so the plots or groups of plots are known as orchards. Each plot is surrounded by palm tree alignments that form grids when viewed from above. Crops have always been grown on the terraces made by them.

The Palmeral de Elche 5
Ibiscus flower

Although palm trees were known to exist in southern Europe prior to human presence, falling temperatures and glaciations wiped out the majority of them, with the exception of some warmer areas protected from cold currents, such as Elche. The abundance of palm and palm tree drawings in Iberian ceramics from La Alcudia (3rd to 1st century B.C.) demonstrates the importance of date palms at the time.

The Palmeral de Elche 7
The Palmeral of Elche

Arab origin

The palm grove expanded as a result of the Arabs’ establishment of the new city in its current site (8th and 9th centuries), constructing an enormous irrigation network that, for the most part, still exists today. One of the elements highlighted by the Unesco proclamation was the endurance of this system of oasis agriculture across generations.

The palm grove now serves a more aesthetic and cultural purpose than an agricultural one. The latter concentrates on producing white palm for Palm Sunday, which is distributed across Spain and even overseas, as well as minor crops of dates for the local market. Commercial-quality kinds of laboratory-bred palms are increasingly becoming available.

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Pictures by Matteo Damiani,

Last Updated on May 16, 2024 by retrofuturista

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