Elche is a city in southeast Spain. It’s known for its Vila Murada old town and the Palmeral of Elche, a vast palm grove. The Basilica of Santa María has baroque and neoclassical features. The “Mystery Play of Elche,” a sacred musical drama, is performed there each year. A former fortress, Palacio de Altamira is part of the Archaeology and History of Elche Museum and home to a replica of the “Lady of Elche” bust.
Elche is a town located in the comarca of Baix Vinalopó, Spain. According to the 2014 census, Elche has a population of some 228,647 inhabitants (called il·licitans in Valencian and ilicitanos in Spanish), ranking as the third most populated city in the Valencian Community (after Valencia and Alicante) and the 20th largest Spanish city.
Part of the municipality 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 splitting it in two parts.
Elche is so close to the city of Alicante, that both cities form a de facto conurbation of some 800,000 inhabitants that can very well double during the summer peak-season.
La Alcudia is 10 km from the current city’s location and the immediate predecessor of current day Elche. This original location was settled by the Greeks and then occupied by Carthaginians and Romans. Greeks Ionian colonists from the achaian city Helice established their new colony, naming it Helike around 600 BC. The Romans called the city Ilici (or Illice) and granted it the status of colonia; after a brief Byzantine rule, the Goths took over, establishing an episcopal see.
Frontal view of the Lady of Elche.
Elche lost importance during the period of Moorish occupation, when it was moved slightly north to its present location. James II of Aragon took the city from the Moors in the 13th century, during the Reconquista. The city grew throughout the 18th century and became more important during the 19th century with the arrival of the railway and a booming industrial development of what used to be the traditional footwear industry.
Many archaeological remains have been found in Elche, with the stone bust of the Lady of Elche (Dama de Elche/Dama d’Elx in Spanish and Valencian (or Catalan), respectively) being the most important. This may date from the Iberian period (4th century BC). The original is in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.
The economy of Elche is based, in large part, on the footwear industry, with over 1,000 shoe factories, being one of the most important footwear centres in Spain and the rest of Europe with brands like Pura Lopez or Panama Jack. There are other economic activities in Elche: agriculture (dates, olives, cereals and pomegranates), although it has lost importance in recent years; rubber industry; trade, which employs 20% of the workforce; and tourism.
Elche has 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.