In the Municipal District of Elche there is the greatest concentration of palm trees in all of Europe: according to estimations, there are between 200,000 and 300,000 specimens of the Phoenix Dactylifera species.
There is quite unanimity in accepting that the origin of this palm grove is Phoenician, which would suggest that the existence of date palms in Elche dates back about 2,000 / 5,000 years. On the other hand, the division, arrangement, irrigation and cultivation of the palm tree in orchards, goes back to the time of Arab domination.
It is in Elche where the city joins the landscape of the Palm Grove (which is not a forest, since it has its origins in agriculture), and where in past times, palm trees were distributed around quadrangular spaces, connected with the ditches of irrigation, where vegetables and fruit trees were grown.
In this way, the agricultural city that was Elche – in the centuries prior to its current industrial activity – included the cultivation of dates and palms alongside traditional horticultural products for local consumption.
Everywhere the landscape dotted with palm trees appears, not only in the same city, but also in the surroundings of the Elche countryside, especially in the humid areas of the Hondo swamp and at the mouth of the Vinalopó river, this river that with its scarce and brackish caudal (part of the year is dry), it can hardly reach the sea and in its last sections mixes its water with that of the sea, creating an area where only resistant species such as the Phoenix Dactylifera, and some varieties of pomegranate can withstand conditions of extreme drought and brackish waters.
The unique agricultural and urban landscape of the Palmeral of Elche, would not have survived had it not been able to count on the special protection of the legislation that has been developed since ancient times. The first measures of care of the palm grove are attributed to King Jaime I of Aragon. In more recent times, at the beginning of the 20th century, and during the regime of the Second Spanish Republic, a law of protection of the Palm Grove is promulgated, and shortly after – already at the stage of the dictatorship of General Franco – it is declared of historical interest . There is currently legislation in force, both at the level of the Valencian Community, where it enjoys specific legal protection, and at the local level, where the City Council has included special protections at the level of urban planning and planning of the municipality of Elche. The City Council of Elche has also managed to retain a good number of palm orchards in or near the city center under public ownership; they no longer carry out agricultural work, but at least the original aspect of the formation of date palms around more or less square plots remains.
El Huerto del Cura, has remained under the same private property (of the Orts family) since 1919, and dedicates visitors’ income to preserve and promote the Garden.
The uniqueness and scenic beauty of the Palmeral de Elche make it a unique natural park on the European continent, which earned it the distinction of World Heritage in November 2000.