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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Palmeral of Elche

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The Palmeral of Elche is a plantation of palm trees in the Spanish province of Alicante. It is the largest palm grove in Europe and one of the largest in the world, surpassed in size only by some in Arab countries.

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Palmeral of Elche

The Palmeral includes the Parque Municipal and many other orchards, covering over 3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi), including 1.5 km2 (0.58 sq mi) within the city of Elche (Elx). It contains more than 11,000 palm trees, mostly date palms, with individual specimens up to 300 years old. At its peak, in the 18th century, it may have covered an area twice as large, with up to 200,000 trees. The dates are harvested in December. A famous date palm is the "Imperial Palm", with 7 stems in the shape of candelabra, named after Elisabeth, known as Sissi, the Empress consort of Franz Joseph, who visited the plantation in 1894.

It is thought that palms were originally planted in this location as early as the 5th century BC by Carthaginians who settled in south-east Spain. The plantation survived under the Romans and the Moors. The irrigation system was extended in the times of Abd ar-Rahman I and remains in use. The formal landscape of the palmeral that still exists today was created when the city was under Moorish control in the 10th century. Although the area has an annual rainfall of only 300 mm (12 in), the palm trees planted along a network of irrigation canals from the salty River Vinalopó creates a patchwork of agricultural plots, each demarcated and shaded by the palm trees to create a protected microclimate. Laws were passed to protect the plantation after the Reconquista.

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