The Palmeral, a World Heritage Proposal
The Palmeral: Statement of Significance
The Palmeral of Elche is a unique cultural landscape of outstanding universal value and significance.
The expansion of Islam from the Indian to the Atlantic Ocean, throughout the belt of arid lands that encircles the southern borders of the Old World, made possible the synthesis of a revolutionary culture of water, thanks to the fusion of the millennial Persian, Arab and Saharan agrarian traditions.
The high yields of the Andalusian irrigated agrarian landscapes caused the medieval Christian conquerors to make their best efforts to preserve them, if not to enlarge them. And it was through the Spanish conquistadores and missionaries of the Modern Era, descendants of those Christian conquerors of the Middle Ages, that the millennial culture of water of Arab, Iranian and Saharan origins reached the New World.
No doubt, better-preserved and even bigger palmerales can be found in the Iranian Plateau, the Arabian peninsula or North Africa.
Nevertheless, the people of Elche have always been aware of the importance of their peculiar "forest" or "sea of palm trees", as the Palmeral is popularly perceived.
Authenticity of the Site
Two levels of authenticity can be distinguished concerning the Palmeral of Elche:
Because of popular commitment to the preservation of the date palms, the basic features of the traditional landscape have been transmitted into the contemporaneous landscape of Elche. Thus, it can be stated that all the remaining palm plantations (whether urban or rural, if untouched or reconverted into new urban uses) still display 100% of the original structure of the Arab land-allotment and irrigation system.
Inserted in the rural district of Elche, the Campo de Elche (Camp d?Elx in Valencian language), where land is still devoted to agrarian uses, the dispersed Palmeral enjoys both structural and functional authenticity.
Proposed Classification for the Palmeral
According to the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, the Palmeral of Elche meets the following criteria for its inscription in UNESCO?s World Heritage List:
The Palmeral is a Continuing Organic Cultural Landscape
The Palmeral is an irrigation landscape of Andalusian origin in which both traditional components and recent adaptations can be observed. Its evolution over time can be perceived in the changing uses of land (from traditional agricultural uses to modern urban ones) and the changing face of agriculture (traditional species being cultivated along with new ones).
The Palmeral is also a Cultural Site
Any irrigation landscape is always the product of the work of man in nature. As a combined work of man and nature, the Palmeral is a genuine cultural site.
Six reasons in favor of the Palmeral
As a property nominated to UNESCO?s World Heritage List, the Palmeral:
The Palmeral represents the genius of Mankind in the mastery of water; a genius that made it possible to turn deserts into gardens throughout the World, displaying a kind of technological wisdom that still offers extraordinary and profitable lessons of sustainability in agricultural development.
The Palmeral embodies the westward historical movement of technological improvements in water management and agricultural techniques that caused the medieval Arab agricultural revolution, and helped the Spanish conquistadores and missionaries to colonize the arid regions of the New World.
The Palmeral is a living testimony of a bygone civilization: Al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. Just as the Alhambra and the Mosque of Cordoba recall the glory of the Muslim rulers of Al-Andalus, the Palmeral represents the strenuous efforts of generations of anonymous peasants who, with the work of their bare hands, turned a desert into Paradise. The cultural splendor of Al-Andalus is inconceivable without considering the hard and artful work of the Andalusian peasantry.
The Palmeral of Elche is a kind of agrarian landscape deliberately transferred by the expanding Islam from its Homeland. Yemenite elements have been found in the constitution of the traditional irrigation system that nourishes the date palm plantations. In this sense, it illustrates one of the many positive impacts of the rise of Islam in World history.
The Andalusian Palmeral of Elche, which represents an exemplary aspect of the Islamic pattern of landscape setting, has withstood historical challenges of enormous significance, like the Christian Conquest in the XIII century, the Expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609, and the modern Industrial and Urban Revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries, due to the perfection of its design as a productive space.
The millennial existence of the Palmeral caused the development of a rich and diverse palm culture and craftsmanship that was fostered after the Christian conquest of Elche because of its connections with Christian traditions such as the Palm Sunday.