Quotations


Al-Idrisi (ca. 1150)

"Elche is a village built in a plain crossed by a ditch derived from the river. This ditch passes under its walls, and the inhabitants make use of it, because it serves the baths and runs by markets and streets. The waters of the aforesaid river are salty. For drinking, the inhabitants must bring rainwater from other places, that they store in tanks"
Geografía de España, s. XI-XI

Ibn Said (ca. 1240)

Concerning the city of Elche. Ibn al-Yasa said: "there are no dates in Al-Andalus as good as those of Elche". Ibn Said said: "I have passed by this city... and it was said that she resembles the City of the Prophet, may peace be upon him"
Al Mugrib fi hula l-magri

Hyeronymus Müntzer (1494)

"October the 12th, having departed Alicante across an arid plain, very dangerous in ancient times because of the Saracen robbers, after riding for two leagues, we reached another very fertile plain, irrigated by rivers, at the village of Elche [...] That place is so productive and abundant in olive oil, that there is no other most fertile. Never before in that way I have seen so many palm trees, the dates of which, although they reach maturity, are not so sweet as in Africa, because this region is not as hot. Oh, how fruitful that village is! It is inhabited by Christians and many Saracens"
Itinerarium sive peregrinatio per Hispaniam, Franconiam et Alemania

Martí de Viciana (1564)

"Around the village, in orchards and fields, there are more palm trees than in all Spain: palm trees that, beyond giving grace and beauty to the land with their posture, produce more than three thousand ducats each year from their dates, whcih are abundant and very good. Moreover, they provide the whole region with seasoned palm leaves; specially, I saw a document of agreement made by the Church of Toledo and a knight from Elche, through which the Church granted him with seventy ducats of ordinary salary in exchange for sending of two carts loaded with palm leaves each year for Palm Sunday: this agreement has lasted for more than thirty five years"
Crónica de la ínclita y coronada ciudad de Valenci

Gaspar Escolano (1610)

"Chapter One: On the Kingdom's countryside, and its great fertility in general; and in particular, on Orihuela and Elche.
[...] There are so many palm trees in the district of Elche in our Kingdom, that the whole area resembles a squadron of men holding upright pikes. For that reason they make so much money from the white palm leaves they cut, besides providing many churches in Aragón, Castile and Valencia, the Church of Toledo has an arrangement with the people of Elche to pay an amount of ducats in exchange for the white palms they take each year for Palm Sunday. The Romans wanted the Romans to depict this abundance of palms on a medal of Elche [...] whose insignia is the palm leaf"
Década primera de la historia de la insigne y coronada ciudad y reino de Valenci

Salvador Perpinyà (1705)

The [Arab] settlers erected a sanctuary (or mosque, better said) in the place where Saint Mary's church stands today, and they established their way of governing, which was very good. They were well-skilled in the art of living, so much so that today something still remains from their administration, namely the system of water distribution. The partidores partidores of the irrigation ditches and some other appurtenances still retain their Arabic names. The system was so equitable that each one irrigates in his turn without disturbing anyone nor causing unpleasantness, something that such partitions provoke elsewhere, causing death and civil strife, and all this because of the lack of order in their partition of waters, and not like we have it here. Because the distribution system has lasted so many years, it has not been necessary to change it?
Antigüedades y Glorias de la villa de Elche

Richard Twiss (1775)

"On the third of May I get out for Murcia, and having gone four leagues , arrived at the large town of Elche, which is very agreeably situatted in the midst of a forest of palm trees"
Travels through Portugal and Spain in 1772 and 1773

Henry Swinburne (1779)

"We stopped at Elche, a big town belonging to the Duke of Los Arcos, built in the outsides of a forest, or, better said, palmeral, where dates hang everywhere in bunches of orange color, and the men that gathered up them moving to and from in jute ropes constituted a curious and agreeable spectacle. The palm trees are old and huge, it is said that their number exceeds that of two hundred thousand. Many of the trees have their branches tied up to a certain place and covered with straw mats to avoid them being affected by sun or air. With time, branches turn white and then they are cut and sent by boat from Alicante to Genoa and other parts of Italy for the big processions of the Palm Sunday, a kind of trade out of the ordinary"
Travels through Spain in the year 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated by accurate drawings taken on the spot.

Joseph Townsend (1792)

"Elche, Ilici of the Romans, might with property be called the City of Dates, for it is every way surrounded by plantations of palm-trees. These, about the month of May, are loaded with fruit in pendant clusters, whch, forming a complete circle, resembles, when ripe, a crown of gold, with aplume of feathers rising from its centre"
A journey through Spain in the years 1786 and 1787; with a particular attention to the agriculture, manufactures, commerce, population, taxes and revenue of that country, and remarks in passing through a part of France.

Antonio José Cavanilles (1797)

"It is tiring to look at endless untilled land, aridity, desolation, and hills that go on to the point of exhaustion; but when one leaves the last gorge and the environs of Elche come to view, with that forest of olive trees preceded by cultivated fields; when, in the center of the olive trees, that multitude of lofty palm trees can be seen, hiding buildings and portions of the towers and steeples of the most populous village of the Kingdom, the surprise is so great, the sensation so sweet, that the spectator desires nothing more than to immerse himself in its value, its beauty, its products and inhabitants, all deserving to be described with exactitude [...]

[...] Water was directed to the privileged sector of land that surrounds the village, and soon forests of olive trees, delicious orchards and much pleasant gardens (not only because of the freshness, verdure and vigor of the plants, but because of the novelty of the fruits, little known in the rest of the Kingdom), were seen in that previously arid soil. In different places of the Kingdom, cotton plants grow and prosper, as well as the date palms that, because of caprice or ornamental purposes, appear in some huertos; but significant harvests and the wise and meticulous cultivation of this plant has only been achieved by the people of Elche. They planted one thousand tahullas adjacent to the village's buildings in date palms, that, encircled by walls, make a circular forest of 70,000 palm trees. Beyond this circular ring of huertos is a wider one, where wheat, barley, alfalfa and other useful plants are grown. Finally come the olive trees, occupying 30,000 tahullas, which serve as a crown or encirclement for the rest of the irrigated lands.

Looking at this space from the top of the Church of Saint Mary's bell tower, you have a most pleasant view. At the spectator's feet are the houses and many streets in which live 20 thousand souls live, and beyond, the circular rings of irrigated land, followed by non-irrigated sown fields as far as the eye can see. On the non-irrigated land the only trees are figs, carobs and a few almonds. The whiteness and apparent aridity of the fields make an admirable contrast with the forest of olive trees, just as the olives contrast with the date palms, because they are separated by a band of irrigated land with different crops"
Observaciones sobre la historia natural, geografía, agricultura, problación y frutos del Reyno de Valencia

Alexandre de Laborde (1806)

"The city of Elche can be recognized through the date palms that cover all its district. These palm trees are so abundant that the whole area has the aspect of an Oriental forest. The fields are surrounded by palms, and their fruit is the primary wealth of the country. This spectacle, novel for the inhabitants of Northern Europe, vividly excites the traveler's attention; for a moment, one believes oneself to be transported to the plains of Syria, or to the shores of the Delta"
Itinéraire descriptif de l'Espagne

Richard Ford (1845)

"There is only one Elche in Europe: it is a city of palms; the Bedouin alone is wanting for the climate is that of the East. [...] Elche, Illice, lies about 2 leagues from the sea; here winter is unknown; the town is flourishing, and contains some 25,000 souls. There is a decent posada; the city is divided by a ravine, over which there is a handsome bridge. The view here is extremely oriental: the reddish Moorish houses, with flat roofs and few windows, rise one over another. To the left is the Alcazar, now a prison, but all around waves the graceful palm. The best church is the Santa Maria; the masonry is excellent, and the portico fine; the Tabernacle is made of precious marbles. From the tower the enormous extent of the palm plantations can alone be understood: they girdle the city on all sides, many thousands, nay ten thousands in number; some are of a great age; they are raised from dates, grow slowly, each rim in the stem denoting a year. The males bear white flowers, which blossom in May; the females bear fruit, which ripens in November. The dates are inferior to those of Barbary, although shipped at Alicante, and sold as such by the respectable trade. They are much used as fodder for cattle. When ripe, they hang in yellow clusters underneath the fan-like leaves, which rise, the umbrella of the desert, like an ostrich plume from a golden circlet. The palm-trees are decreasing: the barren ones yield a profit by their leaves, which are tied together and blanched, as gardeners do lettuces. Thus 12 fine stems are obtained from each, which were worth a dollar in Spain and Italy for processions of Palm Sunday, and as certain defenses all over Spain against lightning, if blessed by the priest who sells them; they are then hung in the house balconies and are cheaper, at least, if less philosophical, than a conductor made of iron"
A Hand-Book for Travelers in Spain

Pascual Madoz (1850)

"The village suburbs are delightful. the town is surrounded by an extensive forest of date palms that rise to a surprising height, and prevent the houses to be seen until one is almost upon them. This ring provides a beautiful view from the distance, because it stands out like a dark point in a great desert. Successively, there extend circular rings of irrigated fields followed by non-irrigated sown lands. The trees are reduced on the non-irrigated land to fig, carob and some almond trees; the whiteness and apparent aridity of the fields make an admirable contrast with the olive tree forest, and this one with that of date palms, because of the fact that a lot of irrigated land with different crops lies in between them. The irrigation ditches snake everywhere, the many farms that populate that terrain, the continuous animation that can be noted in roads and footpaths, that beautiful sun always bering down with its golden rays, it all cause surprise and a pleasant feeling"
Diccionario Geográfico-Estadístico-Histórico de España y sus posesiones de Ultramar

Gustave Dorée & Charles Davillier (1862)

"There is only one Elche in Spain, says a well-known saying. And one might add there is no other in Europe. Although the ancient Ilice was long ago one of the most important Roman colonies in the Peninsula, its main title to glory is the date palm. It is true that these magnificent desert trees are frequently seen almost everywhere in Andalucia, in South Italy and Sicily. There they often reach fairly large dimensions, but appear isolated or in small groups, while around Elche they form a wide belt that surrounds the city like a true forest. One would believe oneself unexpectedly transported by a magician?s wand to a city of inner Africa, or, even more so, to one of those sites where the imagination likes to locate the great scenes of the Bible.

In reaching the city, an excursion through the date palms allowed us to distinguish a straight line of merlon shaped walls, topped by cupolas glittering in the last rays of the sun, projecting an Oriental silhouette on a sky as red as a flame. The illusion would have been complete if instead of Murcian peasants, wrapped in their woolen blankets with strips of brilliannt colors, we had see the passing of one of that caravans Marihat liked to depict, or Rebecca in her Biblical robes, carrying the traditional amphora on her shoulder.

Within Elche we still believed we were in an Oriental city [...]"
Viaje por España

Clements Markham (1867)

Elche is twenty miles north-east of Orihuela, and seven from the shores of the Mediterranean. It is a city of palms. Built on the edge of a torrent bed, which is spanned by a handsome old bridge, the flat-roofed houses of Elche are surrounded on three sides by groves of date palms. The grand old Moorish alcazar (now a prison) stands on the edge of the rambla or ravine; and the three or four church towers, in place of minarets, alone serve to remind of a town in Arabia or Morocco. The great feature of Elche is its date palms, the introduction of which into Spain is traditionally referred to Abd-er.rahman I, who daily contemplated the first Spanish palm from his palace window at Cordova, or watered with his tears the tree which was once irrigated by his beloved Euphrates. He felt halfd mortified that the palm should raise its crest towards heaven and expand with the kisses from the breezes of Algarve, while he, another exile from the East, pined for the sweeter air of his nativeland. And truly the descendants of the famous palm of Abd-er-rahman, with their fifty feet of stem, crowned by the golden branches of fruit and graceful leaves, feel quite as much at home in the gardens of Elche as they ever did on the banks of the Euphrates.[...]

A t a distance of a mile and a half above Elche the Azequia Madre begins to send off partidores, or secondary irrigating channels, of which there are twenty-two in all, seven above the town, and fifteen below it, all of course issuing from the left bank of the mother canal, as the edge of the ravine is close at hand to the right. The names of these partidores give more distinct proofs of the Arabian origin of the irrigation system of Elche than could be obtained either from the mouths of millers and cultivators who live on the banks of the channels and use their water [...]
Report on the Irrigation of Eastern Spain

William Hamilton Hall (1886)

"The water-rights are held by local capitalists, in 814 parts or shares, as it were, and owners are entitled to one vote for each half share held. There is an annual assembly of shareholders, at which are elected a general superintendent or fiel de aguas, a secretary, a number of guards, and the judges or commissioners hereafter to be spoken of. These officers all hold for one year only, except the judges, who hold for two years each. The four judges, with three members of the council of the town, under the presidence of the alcalde, form the council of administration. The members of the municipal board being elected by a general suffrage of all the qualified electors, the irrigators obtain in this way a voice in the management of the works.[...]

Every morning at seven o'clock, in front of the office of the fiel de aguas, there is held a sale of water turns for the twenty-four hours commencing at six o'clock in the afternoon of the day of sale. These sales are of the rights of the individual stockholders for the time specified. If any such holder desires to use his water, or for any reason withhold it from sale, he does so at his pleasure. There are, in consequence, times when there is much water in the market and times where there is but little, and as demand goes up while supply decreases, there are great fluctuations in prices. These transfers are generally at private sale, and made by the owners themselves or by commission agents. When sales are made on account of delinquent taxes for the benefit of the maintenance fund they are generally made at auction.[...]

There are twenty-one ditches branching from the principal canal; but never more than ten or eleven of these are used at one time, for the water supply brought by the canal is not sufficient to fill more of them. At the exchange two classes of conflicts arise which require immediate settlement: (1) two propietors located on different ditches want to buy water to be delivered within the succeeding twenty-four hours; it is not possible to make the delivery at points so far apart; which is to be favored and which must wait until another day? (2) two propietors want to buy water to be delivered from the same ditch, but in amount greater than it will carry to them; which must wait over? The arbitrator of the exchange decides these points immediately as they come up, the selling goes on, and the results are recorded by the secretary as fast as reported, for the guidance of the superintendent in making out his schedule for the next day's work"
Irrigation Development. History, Customs, Lands, and Administrative Systems Relating to Irrigation, Water-Courses, and Waters in France, Italy and Spain.

Pedro Ibarra y Ruiz (1895, 1922)

"Without the water of our Acequia, what would become of Elche's environs" Divert it and you destroy our beautiful groves of pomegranates, and, above all, the leafy palmerales. Elche would cease to be Elche and it would remain an ugly village, like any other in La Mancha surrounded by arid plots, without vegetation, without poetry and, above all, without agrarian wealth"
Historia de Elche

"We can have progress without destruction and without the spoliation of this unique beauty that we have all inherited and therefore have the duty to defend and perpetuate, because it is cause of admiration for the foreigners that come to see this Spanish wonder [...] The town can have progress and accomodate population that currently hasled to the foundation of very unhealthy neighborhoods which push into the shady forest and of factories that bring millions of pesetas to Elche, whose positive impact we are the first to recognize [...] without uprooting a single palm tree, without uprooting that palmeral that constitutes the only forest asset we have"
Article Pro palmeras, published in Nueva Ilice, January 8-9, 1922; reproduced in his book Pro palmeras.

Conjunto de documentos que pueden servir algún día para ilustrar nuestra gestión en defensa de estos palmerales

Teodoro Llorente (1889)

"El viajero que se dirije a tan bella ciudad se cree transportado a una población árabe [...] rodeado de elevadas palmeras; sus magníficas casas de tres pisos con minaretes [...]

Las casas son desde arriba acabados tipos de construcción árabe, con sus terrados planos, sin una teja, y de color ceniza.

Las calles tortuosas y los viejos castillos le dan más carácter a aquel conjunto exótico"
España, sus monumentos y artes, su naturaleza e historia

Francisco Figueras Pacheco (1922)

"The environs of the population are occupied by fantastic forests of date palms, the living remnants of those remote epochs when the city was inhabited by Iberians, Phoenicians, and Greeks. Thus, it can be said that these beautiful and slender trees, now marvelously against the magical blue of our sky, and whose trunks bend to the weight of the centuries, hiding their leaves in the thickness of the forest, are the admirable and beautiful knot that links of today's Elche with the distant times of its origin [...] This beautiful forests are the main tourist attraction, and it is a great pity that some huertos are cut down for expansion of the city, constrained by such romantic walls. We hope that the City Council will look for a way to avoid that danger, if we don't want the people of tomorrow's Elche to blame us for having squandered this invaluable inheritance of the centuries"
Alicante, in Francesc Carreras i Candi, dir., Geografía General del Reino de Valencia

Otto Jensen (1929)

"Among the huerta cities of Eastern Spain, Elche, the city of the palm trees, has a special charm. The spectacle than one enjoys from the top of the squared tower of the church of Saint Mary causes an unforgettable impression [...] Surrounding the whole white city, specially to the north, east and southwest, a wide belt of dark-greened color can be seen: it is the famous palmeral of Elche. The number of palm trees is so high that they are so close to each other that, in fact, the huerta, seen from the distance, gives the impression of a closed forest that extends for some kilometers. Here and there the white huerto's houses shine among the dark mass. Beyond the huerta, so energetically delimited, the desert steppe extends, burnt by the sun [...] The sky, bronze-like and clean of clouds; the air, dry and dust-charged; the hot steppe; the shady date palm forest; the dry riverbed; the white and squared houses, with their strong light and shadow contrasts... it all conforms a picture unique in Europe, that entirely recalls north Africa.

[...] This "forest" do not grow in disorder; it is, in fact, a plantation. The palm trees rise in two files along and to the side of the irrigation ditch, while the squared parcels that remain in between are occupied by other crops [...]"

Decree of 1933

"By the terms of the Constitution of the Spanish Republic, it is a duty of the Government, to protect those places of the national territory that are remarkable for their natural, historical and artistic value.

This duty becomes more imperative whenever such treasures are in danger of dissappearance, and when Spanish cultural and artistic opinion points out the danger and urges its quick remedy.

This is the case that currently afflicts of Elche, where the persistent and continued felling of trees in recent years, because of the lack of legal dispositions placing limits on the individualistic cupidity of the owners, is destroying such a beautiful treasure of art and culture, exceptional in Europe [...]"
Decree signed by the President of the II Spanish Republic, Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, and the Minister of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, Marcelino Domingo y Sanjuán

Decree of 1943

"The palmeral of Elche is a relic of remote epochs, and it can be said that the magnificent date palms that today outline with their panaches the magic blue of the Levantine sky, are the beautiful knot that link the present city with its medieval past"
Decree of the Chief of the Spanish State, General Francisco Franco Bahamonde, published in the Boletín Oficial del Estado in August 3, 1943

Joan Fuster (1962)

"The Camp d'Elx (a geographer says), is not a huerta, but an oasis. In the midst of the general aridity of the Valencian South, Elche and its fields are a gentle island of green, and the date palms, with their Oriental aura, are the defining feature [...]

Three aspects attract the interest of the visitor: its palmeral, its Misteri, and its dama. The palmeral is the first to be seen, cloaking the city to the North, the East and the South: a forest of swaying trees, murmurous in the breeze, green against the immaculate blue sky. One thinks of the Arabs, one cannot avoid it; the scenery fits perfectly with the topic. But no: Elche had date palms since long before the arrival of the Moors. Perhaps they were imported by the Phoenicians. But indeed, the Moors extended and nurtured them, out of nostalgia for their distant landscapes [...]
Elche and its palm trees have stimulated much literature. Those shady roads, the whiteness of the earth, the melancholic palm leaves, the flat roofed houses, the century plants and nopals, the implacable sun, all recall a typical Moorish or Palestinian landscape. But the city, with its modern avenues and industrial effort, give the lie to the Oriental cliché. "One do not walk with impunity under the date palms", said Goethe. Under other palm trees, to be sure, a stroll can be conductive to laziness or languidity. But in Elche the date palm is a stimulant, something akin to the thrill of fliying. Or so it seems to me. All considered, the plethoric and entrepreneur people gives me the reason"
El País Valenciano

James Michener (1968)

"We sought a small country road and traveled through the once-great date plantations of Elche: in Muslim days there had been over a million date palms here and their fruit was famous as far as Egypt. Now the vast plantation has diminished to a mere fraction of its former size, and many have adduced this as proof of how Spain suffered when the Moors were expelled. I think a truer explanation would be that tastes have changed and that non-Muslims simply do not eat as many dates; where the palms used to grow I found almond trees, one of the most poetic of the fruit family and as gracefully restrained as a solitary guitar playing at night. While I was marveling at the beauty of the almond trees, my wife pointed to a spot at which five fields came to a point, producing something I had not previously seen: growing side by side were dates, almonds, olives, oranges and pomegranates. As much as anything I saw in Spain, this curious juxtaposition demonstrated how rich the Mediterranean littoral had always been, whether under Roman, Visigoth, Muslim or Spain rule: we were in a garden that stretched for hundreds of miles"
Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections

Thomas F. Glick (1970)

The vestigial Arabisms and Islamic practices visible in late medieval Valencian irrigation form an ethnic mosaic corresponding to the various irrigated regions of the Islamic world which sent their sons to settle in Al-Andalus. Two cultural types of water distribution systems can be broadly delineated: I) a Syrian type, modeled after the Barada river of the Guta of Damascus (systems of Valencia, Castellón, and Gandía), characterized by proportional distribution of water; II) a Yemenite type, typical of the small, oasis like huertas of the southern kingdom of Valencia (Alicante, Elche, Novelda), based on fixed time measurement units and associated with the sale of water.

These types correspond as well to two rival systems of land tenure, one in which water rights are inseparable from the land, another in which the right to water may be sold separately from land. The second, which I call "Yemenite" on the basis of irrigation vocabulary, has also been associated with the Saharan cases with which there is great institutional similarity. The evidence is suggestive not only of mixed settlement (both Yemenite and Berber) in eastern Al-Andalus but also of Yemenite influence upon Saharan irrigation practice"
Irrigation and Society in Medieval Valencia

Alejandro Ramos (1971)

"In our fields, date palm deserved much attention. If it was not brought by the Arabs, as we saw in the previous chapter, it is true that it was particularly cared by them. Surely, we owe to them its the current way of cultivation, forming huertos, of straight-shaped lines that, in crossing between them, leave big squares in which they would raise the pomegranate tree"
Historia de Elche

Law of 1986

"The palm groves of Elche, the millennial cultivation technique of this so typical a Mediterranean species, bear witness to a unique aspect of the economic and social history of the Valencian people. Their origin, moreover, is arguably prior to the current structure of the groves, which might date to Antiquity. All this contributes to the value of this arboreal mass, the Palmeral of Elche, so evocative for those who have viewed it, as the frequent literary quotations and graphic depictions over the last two centuries attest.

Its unique character is embodied even more in its specificity as an element of the Valencian Cultural Heritage: a living object, in constant evolution and development: planted, artificially fertilized, pruned and maintained through traditional arts that shape this arboreal mass as an object whose legal protection must follow patterns different from those promulgated for the protection of objects with a different kind of monumental character"
"Exposición de motivos" of the Law 1/1986, of May 9, of the Valencian Generalitat, for the Regulation of the Protection of the Palmeral of Elche