With over 70,000 date palms in the formally designated palmeral itself and up to 200,000 in the general area around Elche, this ancient palm grove is really magnificent. It’s one of the largest in the world, and there aren’t any other sprawling groves like it in Europe. It’s also the northernmost palm grove of its kind.
Originally planted in the 5th century BC by the Carthaginians, the palmeral is now divided into nearly 100 individual orchards. While some are privately owned, many have been purchased by the municipality and are open to the public so people can meander in the shade of the broad, leafy fronds.
The grove’s current landscape was created when the city was controlled by the Moors between the 7th and 10th centuries. The trees are still planted in neat rows that follow the lines of the ancient irrigation canals, which amazingly are still in working order.
Originally, the palms were used as a source of food. The sweet, sugary dates that fell from their branches were used to feed both people and animals. However, the trees now mainly serve cultural and religious purposes. Dried palm leaves are woven and plated into the decorative structures used for Palm Sunday processions.