Elche by Robert Bovington (Elx in Valencian)
Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Moors have in turn, invaded the Land of Valencia and nowhere in this region are the legacies left by these ‘guests’ more evident than in Elche. The most visible memento is the palm trees that were planted by the Moors. Elche is simply inundated with them! Over 200,000 palm trees surround the city making it more like a forest than an urban landscape. The Moors formally laid out the ‘Palmeral of Elche’ in the 10th century. They installed elaborate irrigation systems and these are still functioning today as are the agricultural practices developed by these enterprising people. Elche is a World Heritage site because the palm forest is so impressive and important.
When I recently visited the city, I went on a delightful walk – the ‘Ruta del Palmeral’. It is 2580 metres in length although it covers only a fraction of the total extent of the Palmeral. The little map that can be obtained from the tourist office suggests starting at the orchard of Sant Plàcid. It is as good a point to start as any and is opposite the ‘Huerto del Cura’ – the Priests Garden. It is known as ‘The Jewel of the Palm Park’ and rightly so – it is a calm relaxing place – a delightful garden of palm trees, tropical plants and cacti. It even has a pond with ducks!
Elche has a number of historic monuments and one in particular is worth a visit – the ‘Basilica of Santa María’, a spectacular building with a bell tower and an imposing blue dome. The present Basilica is the fourth religious building occupying the same site. It was the site of a Muslim mosque when Jaime I, King of Aragón, conquered the town in 1265. The present building was started in 1672 and finished in 1783. A visit to the bell tower is worth the effort. From the top, panoramic views of the city can be enjoyed – in particular, the groves of palm trees. On the different landings of the tower information is displayed about the building of the Basilica, its architectural styles and its importance in regards to Elche’s other claim to fame – the ‘Misteri’ or ‘Festa d’Elx’ – a medieval sacred play. This ‘Passion play’ is acted out in the Basilica every year on the 14th and 15th of August. It is listed as ‘World Heritage’ making Elche one of the few places in the World to have two ‘UNESCO World Heritage’ awards.
Elche is one of the inland cities of the Costa Blanca although the Elche district does comprise some coastal areas only 12 kilometres distant from the city. I would recommend anyone who visits the Costa Blanca to pay a visit to Elche and to the ‘Huerto del Cura’ in particular.