1843-1918. Between two centuries: Don José Castaño

José Castaño was born in Elche on 12 May 1843. He was the third son of a large family who lived as tenants in an orchard which, in time, would become his father’s property and, later, his own.

He served as vicar of the parish of El Salvador and, later, as chaplain of the prison and the convent of the Poor Clare nuns. He dedicated the best of his life to the orchard, in great modesty, renouncing offices and prebends. Around 1900, he built a chapel where he celebrated mass every day. The orchard at that time was a rural area where vegetables, fruit and, of course, dates were grown, and where there were also chickens and some livestock.

José Castaño knew how to value and promote the best jewel of his orchard: the Imperial Palm, which was then known as “El Candelabro”, and he began to institute the dedication or “baptism” of the palm trees to commemorate the visit of illustrious figures, and the custom of visitors leaving their impressions in an album. It was he who, in December 1894, received the unexpected visit of Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Queen of Hungary (1837-1898), known as Sissi, from whom the famous palm tree takes its name “Imperial”.

She died at the age of 75 on 14 October 1918. Her funeral was attended by a large crowd, a tribute paid to her by the people of Elche.

1918-1936. Transformation: Don Juan Orts Miralles

D. Juan Orts Miralles

Not only the orchard, but also Elche began to change. Elche had just over 25,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 20th century, but the industrial revolution was gradually taking hold, and this was noticeable mainly in the shoe industry.

The new owner of the Huerto, Juan Orts Miralles, was born in Elche on 30 March 1874 and died on 18 September 1936. He was the sixth and last son of a family of modest means.

The owner of a large espadrille factory, he won important prizes at the Paris and Milan exhibitions with his canvas shoe models. He was undoubtedly an intelligent man ahead of his time. A friend of Chaplain Castaño, he knew his orchard very well and, once it was put up for public auction after his death, he bought it.

He immediately began to make improvements, converting the orchard into a summer residence. One of the greatest merits of Don Juan Orts was that he did not give in to speculative pressures to convert the land into urban land.

It was at this stage that the orchard became a space open to visitors, so much so that in his time illustrious personalities visited the orchard, many of whom he dedicated a palm tree as a gift.

1936-1958. Consolidation with Juan Orts Román

D. Juan Orts Román

During most of the sad Spanish Civil War, the Huerto was seized by anarchist brigades, renamed “Huerto Internacional”, and finally used as a school.

In 1940, it returned to the Orts family with Juan Orts Román, son of the previous owner. He was born in Elche on 22 September 1898 and died in Orihuela on 18 June 1958.

The first born of six siblings and a law graduate, he held various posts in his native city, obtained thanks to his solid cultural and humanistic training, contributing articles to the provincial and national press. At the time of his death, he was the official chronicler of the city and Patron of the Misteri d’Elx.

After his father’s death, he became the owner of the orchard and carried out the most important renovation that had ever been done, converting it into a recreational garden and giving it a tourist projection, obtaining the status of “National Artistic Garden” in 1943, building the current house and converting it into his permanent home.

A great supporter of the Misteri d’Elx, he invited to his house all those who could help to promote it.

If in his father’s time the orchard was a meeting place for great politicians, now it was the centre of the best of the enlightened society of the time.

His remains rest, according to his own wishes, in the chapel of the orchard next to those of his wife, María Serrano Barceló.

1958 to the present day: Modernisation

Zona de la Rocalla

On the death of Juan Orts Román, his 6 children inherited the orchard and it was then, with the help of José Orts Serrano and the unconditional support of the rest of the brothers, that new ornamental spaces were created around the Imperial Palm tree. Thanks to the inspiration and the landscape and botanical knowledge of Pepe Orts, successive landscapes appear distributed in different plots of the orchard, where you can see cactus (between ponds in the Rocalla), exotic palm trees from different latitudes, citrus trees, and other curious plants such as those of the zamiaceae family (zamias) or of the cycas genus. This transformation is carried out in such a way that it remains faithful to the structure of the traditional orchard of Elche (with its plots of land and its paths), maintaining its flavour of a Mediterranean Arab garden.

In this way, the huerto del Cura has evolved in less than 100 years, from a traditional rural area to a garden with international tourist and cultural projection, where traditional plants from the area coexist with others of more tropical origin. The orchard has become the most visited place in Elche and a clear exponent of its past and its future.