Palmeral de Elche is one of the largest palm groves in Europe. The historic Elche Palm Grove has the UNESCO World Heritage designation. It contains nearly 200,000 date palms, some of which have grown spontaneously. Although most were planted by man over the course of centuries. The unusual way of the lay-out gave rise to many orchards (huertos), nearly a hundred of which still exist.
This palm garden today consists of different parts. One of the most famous and most beautiful gardens is the Huerto del Cura orchard, with nearly 500 palm trees, including a specimen that is truly a botanical rarity: the one known as the “Imperial Palm”.
The city of Elche was founded by the Muslims, who designed the Palmeral to take maximum advantage of the region’s extremely severe water conditions. Thanks to its economic importance, the great oasis of Elche has been able to survive to the present day.
What more to do in Elche?
Elche is more than only Palmeral de Elche. Beside the palm trees there are old fortresses and defensive structures. Visit the old town of Elche and you’ll find constructions from different times, with diverse architectural styles, exciting histories and popular celebrations. Right in the centre is the Plaza de la Glorieta. There is the famous replica of the Lady of Elche and an angel representing the Mystery Play of Elche. The mystery play is a well-known drama that tells of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary and that attracts thousands of tourists every year.
A 2-minute walk away is the plaza de la Mercé. With its back to the square, stands the old convent of Santa Lucía. It is a three-storey building with a beautiful neoclassical cloister and a Renaissance-style doorway. It was occupied for years by the nuns of the order of Saint Claire, although long before that it was a place favoured by Muslims for relaxation.
In the foundations of the convent are the Arab Baths, with three vaulted rooms (cold, warm and hot) and a dressing room. In front of the convent’s façade stands the Calahorra tower, a 12th century Islamic watchtower. Its location, next to the main access road from Alicante, ensured the defence of the city.
On the other side of the tower, the plaza de Santa Isabel invites you to dream with its historical feel. Although a little further away than the other monuments in the centre, it is worth going to Santa Teresa bridge. The oldest bridge in Elche and originally made of wood.
Basilica of Santa Maria de Elche
Built on an old Muslim mosque, the Basilica of Elche brings together neoclassical, baroque and renaissance styles. It has 3 carved doorways, 4 chapels and a large dome with blue tiles. More than the looks, it is famous for being part of the stage in the Mystery Play of Elche.
Also known as the Alcázar de la Señoría, this castle-palace was built by the Lord of Villena as his private residence. It is part of the city’s defensive network. Therefore the building has cylindrical towers that protect its flanks and a higher four-sided tower to keep watch over anyone approaching. You can gain access by Altamira bridge and crossing the Vinalopó river. Above the you can see from this point the colourful graffiti of the Vibora II Project. It has packed the slopes of the river with murals and urban art.