What is the Palmeral?


Jaime Brotons

The Palmeral, an Oasis Irrigation Landscape

The sun shines brightly in the Mediterranean basin. Rainfall, however, is scarce, challenging the practice of agriculture. As a response, peasant communities soon learned how to capture surface and underground water, and to conduct it to their thirsty fields. Early in history, a rich and varied irrigation culture arose, adapted in each case to local environmental conditions.


Arifity increases from north to suth. The menace of desertification is obvious around the southern shores of the Mare Nostrum. An autochthonous tree, the date palm, was used for an efficient exploitation of the scanty water available for irrigation. Palm trees were planted flanking irrigation ditches and delimiting plots. Their living screen effect reduced excessive exposure to sun and winds, and lowered evaporation. Fostered by the resulting micro climate, associated crop regimes developed, and the resultant exuberant biomass made possible the maintenance of livestock and the development of craftsmanship. The oasis style of agriculture that emerged was perhaps the most sophisticated and complex of all irrigation agriculture regimes.
Its application allowed the development of intensive farming practices in the extremely arid territory of Elche, whose rainfall annual average is under 300 mm.


Geographical Situation

Elche is the third largest city of the Autonomous Community of Valencia (Spain). It has 191.812 inhabitants, 166.923 living in the city, and 24.889 in the rural area, according to the 1997 General Urban Plan. The geographical coordinates of its municipal district are between 0º 47' to 0º 30' longitude W, and 38º 9' to 38º 21' latitude N.

Arriba a la derecha: fotografía de Jaime Brotons
Abajo a la Derrecha: Atlas de Joan Martines, 1970
Abajo a la izquierda: Regni Valentine Typus



Extension of the Palmeral 


According to the General Urban Plan of 1997, the Palmeral of Elche has a total area of 507'4 ha (5.074.193 m2). All that area is comprised in the following two categories, both proposed for inscription in UNESCO's World Heritage List under the common label "The Palmeral of Elche":


Jaime Brotons

Dispersed Palmeral:
358'5 ha (3.585.118 m2)

Scattered date palm plantations present all across the traditional irrigated agrarian landscape of Elche and which still preserve the agronomic functions that gave rise to the Palmeral a thousand years ago, when Elche was built as a Muslim city.



Jaime Brotons

Urban Palmeral: 148'9 ha (1.489.075 m2)

A compact mass of date palm plantations that completely surrounds what was the Muslim city of Elche, the medieval Vila Murada (Walled Town). Their limits are clearly defined by roads and streets. Currently embedded in the city, the Urban Palmeral is perceived as a large, picturesque city park. Quite a number of palm plantations here have lost their original agronomic functions. Nevertheless, as a clear example of sustainable development, the palm trees have been preserved in spite of the changing use of land. Moreover, the City Council is now promoting the restoration of many irrigated parcels to their original agrarian functions.

The General Urban Plan of 1997 records in detail the limits of all the existing palm plantations in the territory of Elche.


* A note on the non-existence of buffer zones 

The Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention establish that an adequate buffer zone around a property should be provided "whenever necessary".

As a general principle, the General Urban Plan of 1997 does not allow the existing palm plantations to be considered as building sites, and establishes a whole series of administrative checks to safeguard them.

Therefore, it is important to realize that the terms of the 1997 General Urban Plan imply that no buffer zone is required for the preservation of the Palmeral.