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Where on earth is Elche?

sunny 28 °C

Happy Birthday to Sheila from Christine who joined us in Spain to celebrate this momentous occasion.

Spanish is just one of many languages spoken in Spain - as if we weren’t confused enough - so most places have more than one name. For instance, here in the province of Valencia the locals speak Valencian and their name for Elche is Elx. However, just to make life more interesting for visitors they also put up road signs like this one …

It may be that Elche has an eternal identity problem. The Romans and their gods were here two thousand years ago - but they were all over the place two thousand years ago. The Arabs - the Moors of North Africa - were here next; they brought Islam and date palms and the knowledge to cultivate them. When the Moors were driven out by the Christian King James I of Aragon in 1265, they left behind their palms and their castle and mosque.
Here’s the castle…

The castle which is known as The Lord’s Castle, (Alcasser de la Senyoria) was completed by the conquerors between the 15th and 19th centuries. This building, like many historic monuments here, has been restored to within an inch of its life and now looks as though it was thrown up on the back lot of the Disney studios for a recent remake of Don Quixote.

The Moors’ mosque was flattened by the Christians and a Cathedral was eventually built on the rubble. This building is the centrepiece for the city’s annual mystery play when thousands flock into the cathedral to see a couple of guys, dressed as angels with wings and white skirts, playing guitars as they are hauled up into the dome on the end of a rope along with an alabaster statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue, which is claimed to have been sent by God, was found on the beach in a box marked ’For Elche’ … no stamp, no postcode, so it couldn’t have been someone’s misdirected Christmas present. It must have been a gift to the local merchants from heaven, because hundreds of thousands of fervent tourists turn up every year to worship it.
But the palms are the real treasure of Elche - more than 200,000 trees bearing hundreds of varieties of dates. Ancient palm plantations surround the city and we were able to eat sweet, juicy dates from their branches. Palms are everywhere in this place, including this one with seven branches which is more than 150 years old. It is called the Imperial Palm and these two people are not the first celebrities to be photographed under its shade.
We learned a lot about palms - most surprisingly that they are not trees at all. Palms are actually very tall grasses. Jim is glad he doesn’t have to mow this lot …

Posted by Hawkson 03:18 Archived in Spain

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