Around 23km inland from Alicante is the capital of the El Baix district and the Valencian regions' third largest city in terms of population. Elche had its original location at L'Alcudia where the bust of the Lady of Elche was found, however the city was moved by the Moors to its current position, surrounded by groves of palm trees. Elche is known as Elx in Valenciano.
Today, over 200,000 officially protected palm trees in the city lend it a somewhat exotic air. These palms are evident on every street corner and can be especially enjoyed in the well-tended city park and just a short walk away in the Huerto del Cura (Priest's Garden) where a palm in the form of a severn-armed candelabra is a great example of the freaks of nature. This park is the only one in Elche that you have to pay to visit. Currently the price is €5 per adult which we thought a little steep.
When King James I conquered the city, the victorious Christians occupied the Vila Murada or walled city and the Moors moved to the Ravel area, where a contemporary art gallery is now situated.
Besides being a popular tourist destination, Elche has a thriving industry in shoe manufacture. There are around 1,000 shoe factories in Elche. There's also a busy rubber industry that employs 20% of the Elche workforce.
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In the historical area of Elche , there are lots of monuments and buildings to see and most are within easy walking distance. Make the tourist office near the castle your first call and you can collect lots of information and a street plan although the street plan can be a little confusing as there are so many parks.
Also known as Alcázar de la Señoría and the 'Lord's Fortress' is located next to the Municipal Park. It was originally built in Almohad times (12th-13th centuries), and was later renovated with a brick exterior in the 15th century. This former fortress became a fabric plant in 1913. Over the years it has also been used as the town hall and as a prison during the Spanish Civil War. Today it houses the Archaeology and History Museum.
Elche Palm Grove and palm parks
This famous orchard contains over 2,000 palm trees and was declared a national monument in the year 2000.
Elche is known worldwide for its palm trees.
There are several large palm parks in Elche. One of the most popular is the Huerto del Cura. This park is where you will find the unique Imperial palm Tree with seven branches originating from one trunk. The park covers 13,000 square metres. Entry is €5 per adult.
The municipal park is free.
The Arab Baths (Baños Arabes)
These Arab baths date from the 12th century and include re-modelled Roman baths. Each bath consisted of three rooms, the most popular being the warm bath. Made of stone slabs, the bath was supported by 8 pillars between which, hot air was passed. This practice is what gave birth to our modern day saunas. During the 14th century the building was used as a convent. The baths can be found in Calle Eres de Santa Llucia. They are open to the public Tuesdays to Saturdays 10am-1.30pm and 4.30pm to 8pm. On Sundays the hours are 10.30am-1.30pm.
Basilica of Santa Maria (Saint Mary)
This wonderful building dates from around 1673 when the first foundation stone was laid. This Baroque Basilica is the only temple in the Catholic world that is permitted to hold within, a religious theatrical drama. The famous play from the 13th century, 'Elche Mystery Play' is perfomed here.
The Tower of the Basilica
This tower is what enabled Elche to become known as a city. In 1871, Amadeus I, King of Spain visited the tower and on seeing the views of the town from the top, he described Elche as 'a wonderful city'. At that time, 80% of Elche was covered in palm trees.
Today it is possible to climb to the top of the tower. The price os €2 per adult. The steps are quite difficult and not for the feint-hearted. The views from the top are well worth the effort. On the way up there are two stops in small rooms. One houses a photographic display and museum, the second houses the bells. The tower is open daily from 11am-6pm. Tickets are bought inside the tower door.
The Municipal Park in Elche
This is just one of many parks in Elche and as you would expect, it's full of palm trees. This is a wonderful place to enjoy both the sun and the shade. The park is filled with tall palms, water features, a band stand and much more. On the other side of the road is the outdoor swimming pool and the sports park where all manner of sports take place. The tourist office can be found on the corner of the Municipal Park.
The Tower of Calaforra
Located next to the Basilica, this 12th century tower was built by the Arabs as a watchtower to watch people entering the city from Alicante. The tower is oblong in shape and is quite unique. No other similar tower survives in the Valencian region.
The Lady of Elche
Known in Spanish as Dama de Elche, is a stone bust that was discovered in in 1897 on an archaeological site at L'Alcudia, around 2km from Elche. This piece of sculpture is believed to be Iberian, dating from the 4th century BC. Over the years the sculpture has had a varied history. It was taken to France shortly after being found. It was shown in the Louvre Museum and hidden during World War II. Franco's government managed to negotiate its return to Spain in 1941. It was placed in the Prado Museum in Madrid then later moved to the Arhaeological Museum in Madrid where it remains. It was shown for a while in Elche in 2006. The government of Elche have appealed for its permanent return to Elche but have so far been refused. Instead, Elche has to make do with a replica. When made, the Lady Of Elche would have been painted in full colour. There is an ongoing debate about the authenticity of the bust. many claim it is a forgery. One of the best replicas can be found in La Glorieta which is a small square in the city centre. There's also a copy ine tourist office.
There are several other churches within Elche, dotted between the parks and plazas.
Getting around Elche
The River Vinalpo runs through Elche and has several impressive crossing points. If you stay close to the river you are guaranteed to see the best sights including the Basilica, the Palacio, the Museo de la Fiesta and the old town market. The tourist office have a street plan that illustrates the best walking routes to get the most out of your visit.
Elche is full of splendid buildings with intricate stonework and a fair share of statues and monuments. Look out for the Lady of Elche. make sure you have stout walking shoes on and take plenty of water with you. You will however, find lots of little cafes in which to rest.
The tourist train runs around the city and the Municipal Park. This is a great and easy way to see the best sights. There's a stop outside the park. There's also a cycle hire service in Elche with regular parks throughout the city.
Theme parks and what to do in Elche
Further afield from Elche, a great day out can be had at the Rio Safari Park, located on the Elche-Santa Pola road. The park has an excellent range of animals on display as well as swimming pools and water slides. There's a regular dolphin show too. Further details and prices can be obtained on 966 638 288.
Scuba Diving in the Elche area: Subaelx - www.scubaelx.com. Capt. Antonio Mena, 92, Elche. Tel 966 641 042
Museums in Elche
The Museu Municipal de la Festa
This museum in Elche is dedicated to the 'Festa' of Elche which is the famous mystery play. The museum houses costumes and related items.
The Archaeological Museum of Elche
Located on Diagonal del Palau, this museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-1.30pm and 4.30pm-8pm. On Sundays the hours are 10.30am-1.30pm. Known as 'MAHE', the museum shows the evolution of Elche since the first settlements. This is one of the most interesting and well planned museums in the region.
Museu del Palmerar
Located in the Hort de Sant Placid, the entry price is just €1. Open Tuesday to Sunday, the museum illustrates the history and cultivation of the palm trees.
The visitors centre
This is where you can see an audio-visual presentation about the city. Ideal for first-time visitors to Elche. It is located in the Municipal Park.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Founded in 1980, this museum shows over 150 works of art from local artists.
Fiestas and events in Elche
The patron saint, San Agatangelo is honoured in February with a procession from the church to the Basilica de Santa Maria.
The Mystery Play of Elche (Festa)is a Medieval drama that dates from the 15th century. It is played out mid-August every year as part of the holidays for Assumption of Virgin Mary. Also combined with this fiesta is the Nit de l'Alba or Night of the Dawn. All over Elche there will be firework displays all night. The play takes place in the Basilica.
8th-12th August is Moors and Christians. On the 28th December it's the Venida de la Virgen.
There are several patron saint days in Elche, each parish having their own saint. Idealspain filmed the celebrations in honour of San Agatangelo in February.
The procession leaves the small church and weaves through the streets, finishing at the Basilica. The procession includes loud fireworks set off at every junction and on arrival at the Basilica. The procession includes the band. The costumes are particularly beautiful and colorful. The girls wear lace headscarves, bright sashes and colourful crinoline dresses. Their jewellery is of a religious nature and traditional. The procession, as like all other fiestas, brings traffic to a standstill in the city.
The local area around Elche and Idealspain's visits
Elche has around 9km of shoreline with white sandy beaches. The beach resorts include L'Altet, Els Arenals del Sol, El Carabassi, El Pinet, La Marina and Les Pesqueres.