Around 30km west of Gran Alacant with around 240,000 inhabitants is the stunning and pleasing city of Elche.
Thanks to its population it is now the third most vital city in the Valencian Community. It also has shoe manufacturing, sweets and clothing business.
Part of the district is coastal but the main city is some 11 km (6.8 mi) from the Mediterranean Sea. A small creek called Vinalopó flows through the city dividing it in two parts.
In 2000, the Palmeral of Elche (The Palm Grove of Elche) was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO due to its orchard of over 200,000 palm trees.
In 2002 the Mystery Play of Elche, a sacral-lyrical medieval drama, dating from the 15th century was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
La Alcudia is 10 km from the current city’s location and the actual predecessor of current day Elche. The Greeks settled on the original site and then was seized by Carthaginians and Romans. Greeks Ionian colonists from the Achaian city Helice founded their new colony, naming it Helike around 600 BC. The Romans named the city Ilici and gave it the status of colonia. After a short Byzantine rule, the Goths took over, founding an “episcopal see”.
After being moved slightly north to its current location, Elche lost significance during the period of Moorish occupation. James II captured the city from the Moors in the 13th century during the Reconquista. The city prospered throughout the 18th century and became more vital during the 19th century with the arrival of the railway and a thriving industrial advancement of what used to be the traditional footwear business.
Numerous archaeological remains including the stone bust of the Lady of Elche (Dama de Elche/Dama d’Elx in Spanish and Valencian, respectively) have been found here. This may date back from the Iberian period (4th century BC). The original can be found in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.
The economy of Elche is based primarily on the footwear industry with more than 1,000 shoe factories and is one of the most important footwear hubs in Spain and all over Europe. The city has other economic activities such as agriculture (dates, cereals, pomegranates and olives), rubber industry, trade which employs 20% of the workforce and tourism.
Elche also boasts a conference centre called Ciutat d’Elx, an international airport (Aeropuerto de Alicante), a public University, Universidad Miguel Hernández, and a private University, Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera.
The Arab Baths in Elche were founded in the 12th century and until 1998 were a hidden gem. Situated underground in the Convent de la Merced, they are the sole public baths that remain preserved.
However, at the time they were built there were a number of public baths as it was considered a sign of social and economic opulence. The main aim of the Arab Baths in Elche was to cleanse the body before prayer (as the Koran obliges). Unfortunately, after 1270 big changes were made in Elche due to the rule of the King Don Manuel who advised the monks of the Orden de la Merced to build a convent over the ruins of the baths. It is free to visit the Arab Baths in Elche and does not take long either. The show is normally in Spanish but French and English translations are also available with a simple set of coloured lights showing how the baths used to work.
BASILICA DE SANTA MARIA
Situated in the place where the main mosque was located during the Muslim era is the Basilica of Santa Maria. In 1265, after Jaime I conquered the city, the mosque was consecrated for Christian ceremonies, dedicating it to Saint Mary (María). It stayed in this site until 1334. On top of it, the first Catholic Church was founded, more likely of Gothic style and with a cross design, which remained until 1942.
The Misteri (Mystery Play of Elche) is believed to have been played in this temple for the first time possibly with the construction of a system of ramps, floorboard and a high ceiling in the shape of cupula, dome or arch since it was the norm for the Assumption performances during that time.
In 1556, a larger and second church was completed. Unfortunately, it collapsed in 1672 due to a very heavy rain.
The construction of the current church began in the year 1672 under the command of the master builder Francesc Verde who took over the position from Pere Quintana and Ferran Fouqet.
In 1784 the current building was completed. The Basilica de Santa Maria embodies a variety of architectural styles (mostly ornamented, neoclassical and Italian baroque) as the facade and the doorway of San Agatangelo show.
Basilica: Free Entrance
Tower: General fee: 2€
Groups: 1€ (from 20 people)
Children under 10: 1 €
Children under 5: Free
Basilica Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday from 7:00 to 13:00 and from 17:30 to 21:00.
Tower Opening Hours:
Monday to Sunday: 10:30 to 15:00.
June, July, August and September: from 11:00 to 19:00.
12th August: Afternoon closed.
13th August: Closed.
25th December: Closed.
The Elche tourist train is an ideal way to discover Elche. The tour takes around 40 minutes and visits the most symbolic sites of the city including Municipal Park and part of the historical and Palm Grove Path. It has a total of 4 stops and the starting point is located in front of the Tourist Office next to City Park.
Departures at 10:00, 11:00, 12;00, 13:00, 15:00, 16:00 and 17:00
General fee: €3.50
Child under 12 years old: €2.30
Over 65 years old: €2.30
Family Fare (2 adults and 2 children): €10.50
Group (minimum of 20 people): €2.30 each
Phone: 966 613 147
Elche is not only known for its footwear industry but it also offers some great shopping experience. The Salvador Artesano shoe factory outlet is the biggest of all the Salvador Artesano shops and is a must for all shoe lovers as it is almost the size of a football pitch. Close by is the El Corte Ingles Department Store which sells everything from top brands, local and international ones with a highly-rated post-sales service and a large supermarket on site, Hipercor. It has free parking and opens during fiestas as well. You will find also a large indoor mall called The L’Aljub with over 120 shops including well known high street chains such as Bershka, Eroski, Zara, H&M and Primark to name a few. It also comes with a Comic Park to keep the Children entertained and has free parking!
The Mystery Play or Festa d’elx is a chanted drama of medieval origins, dating from the 15th century. It was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2002 and reveals the Dormition, Burial and Assumption of Virgin Mary. It is split into two acts: the Vespra or the eve which is performed on the 14th August and Dia de la Mare de Déu or Day of the Mother of God, on the 15th August. The setting is the baroque Basilica of Santa Maria, the construction of which very much took into consideration this occasion.
The entry to the basilica is free both on the 14th and 15th of August with its doors staying wide open. It is important also to arrive at the church several hours in advance due to the enormous popularity of the play and the devotion that is felt for it by the inhabitants of Elche.
ALTAMIRA PALACE (PALACIO DE ALTAMIRA)
Also known as Alcazar de la Señoria, Altamira Palace is situated next to the Municipal Park in Elche.
It was initially built during the Almohad times (12th-13th centuries) and was later refurbished with brick exterior in the 15th century. In 1913, this former fortress was turned into a fabric plant, and has also been used as the Town Hall as well as a prison during the Spanish Civil War.
The dramatic process of the renovation of the palace makes it one of the best conserved fortresses in the province of Alicante and also an essential monumental point of reference with vital significance to the municipality. At present, it is home to the Elche Archaeology and History Museum.
HUERTO DEL CURA
The Huerto del Cura (The Priest’s Garden) is a beautiful botanical garden and only a short 15 minute drive from Gran Alacant. It has an area of 12,000 sq. metres and in 1943 was declared a National Artistic Garden. Inside, it is housed a vast range of Mediterranean and tropical plants organised to create an air of serenity and calm.
Within the municipal area of Elche, you will find the biggest collection of palm trees with almost 300,000. Aside from palm trees, the Huerto del Cura, (named after a local priest Jose Castano Sanchez, who was also its owner until 1918) the gardens house a large number of typical Mediterranean types of orange, lemon, carob, pomegranate and jujube trees with numerous species from this subtropical climate. In 1940, the modern house was constructed but keeps the original porch featuring pillars supported by palm tree trunks.
The chapel is attached to the main house and was founded in 1900 aside from the stunning altarpiece which dates back from the 18th century. Inside these beautiful grounds, the most prized jewel in the crown due to its rarity is the Imperial Palm Tree which stands behind the fruit tree area. It is a remarkable date palm consisting of seven branches born of the same trunk which gives them life and whose beauty and symmetry mean that is an exceptional palm amongst palms. It is also about 165 years old and weighs over 8 tons. Usually, the shoots of a palm tree are visible at the base of the palm tree when the tree is around 12 years old, but with the Imperial Palm, this occurred when it was around 30 years old and at the very distinctive height of around 2m above the base of the tree, making it an enormous candelabra shape. It is also named after the Empress Elisabeth of Austria “Sissi” when she came to visit the Palm Grove in 1894.
Also inside the Huerto del Cura is a stunning rock garden which features around 40 different varieties of cacti and succulent plants. The various pools and streams located here give a peaceful and tranquil feel to the area.
ELCHE PALMERAL AVENTURAS
Located in the orchard Huerto de Travalón Bajo, the Elche Palmeral Aventuras Park was developed focusing on the preservation of the environment and protection of the Palm Grove. All of the integrated and complex network of artificial and removable structures were designed so that it can be assembled and disassembled without altering or damaging the environment. It has leisure activities and lots of adventures for young and old to enjoy. Being an outdoor park, it focusses on leisure and active tourism, integrated into one of the green spaces of the city.
The park has free access, independent activities and guided tours through the typical orchards vegetation. You can choose if an activity lasts for as little as 5 minutes or the whole day. There is even an option of saving challenges until your next visit.
You are able to climb the walks of the Triaction Tower, which is more than 20m high and houses two giant zip-lines that offer an unforgettable experience where you can enjoy the panoramic views over the palm tree park and its artificial lake. There are also special harnesses available, enabling those with disabilities to enjoy this fun filled activity.
The above ground multi-adventure circuits are fun and a great way to boost your confidence; with varying levels of difficulty the different circuits suit all ages and abilities.
Or if you fancy something more relaxing then why not take a boat out on the lake or try your hand at Archery.
During the Winter they are open to the public Monday – Thursday from 5pm – 8pm, Fridays from 5pm – 10pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 10pm. During the other times they only open to group bookings.
To make a reservation book via firstname.lastname@example.org or call them 965 995 012.
For more information, you may visit http://www.visitelche.com/en