If the Ilicitanos, which is the way the people from Elche are call in Spanish, live today among hundreds of thousands of palm trees is, among other things, because Jaime I did not allow them to be pulled up during the Reconquest, this plant was associated with the Arabs and for that reason the Christians used to wipe them out.
It was the year 1265 and the Aragonese King, along with King Alfonso X from Castile, had just kicked the Muslims out of the city. And of course, that immense palm grove was a hallmark of Arab culture, who had planted it, perhaps, out of nostalgia for the faraway deserts they had left behind.
So, fortunately, the palm grove survived and made it to our days to collect the honours from the UNESCO and to be declared a World Heritage Site. But also to give the city of Elche a feature which makes it different from all the others, because, how many palm groves like this do you think there are in Europe? Well, in fact, none.
Although here they can flaunt over more things that are unique. El Misteri, or The Mystery of Elche, is also a cultural treasure, but this one cannot be touched or smelled. It can only be represented because it is a religious play that dates from the late Middle Ages and has been staged without interruption ever since. That’s something to think through entirely because a record like this is quite something.
On the 14 and 15 of every August, the drama is performed behind the walls of the Basilica of Santa Maria from whose dome, the celestial characters of the play are raised and lowered with artefacts that also are of Medieval origin. And it is really high, believe us!
This is not the only mystery of Elche. Because in addition to having monuments such as the Tower of Calahorra, an ancient Arab fortification that also served as a Masonic headquarters, this city is famous thanks to one of the most enigmatic icons of the Iberian culture.
We are talking about the Lady of Elche, of course. It is so enigmatic that it is not even clear if it is a Lady. The sculpture was found in 1897 in La Alcudia, a short distance from the city. Later it was sold to France and was exhibited at the Louvre while scholars racked their brains trying to clarify its origin and authenticity. Finally, it was returned to Spain, and it is said that even Heinrich Himmler paid close attention to it when he visited these lands.
What the Nazi man didn’t know is that, apparently, he was admiring a replica. But sure, no one would tell him that since the nasty character liked concentration camps too much.