Offering shelter from the hot summer sun, the Palmeral de Elche-- a UNESCO World Heritage site, rises out of the semi-arid landscape of the Alicante Province like an oasis with its thousands of palm trees splashing green against the brown horizon. The continued existence of the sprawling acreage of these palms, in a city where economic prosperity is based on mass industrialised shoe production, situated within a global throwaway society, represents a small triumph over the cupidity of humanity. Despite losing their economic significance and waning in cultural value, the palms of Elche still stand tall, waving their branches against the Spanish sun while progress churns on around them, serving as silent witnesses to changing times and representing a bygone age.
The notion of heritage is permeated with the essence of all that this generation of man has inherited from their forefathers, including the good things of society, but also the bad—a list that includes those many social chains to which Rousseau refers. Heritage is often considered at micro levels—the genetic traits that stare at you in the mirror or in the museum objects that represent the history of a nation, but even this conception of heritage has roots in a greater narrative reaching beyond your nearest ancestors. The common heritage of mankind preserved through the designation of UNESCO World Heritage status, though located in a place outside of one’s familial or national borders, represents a site significant to the story of the entirety of the human race. As part of this common heritage, the Palmeral de Elche has survived the ravages of time as our once unique civilizations have expanded, merged and globalised into an integrated web of the international system.
Arriving in Elche just after a supercell dropped over five inches of rain in less than twenty minutes, the flashflood swirling around network of strategically planted palms made it a little easier to imagine the efficiency of this little oasis that once supported a vast agricultural zone. Likely introduced to Europe by the Carthaginians, the palms were eventually planted into a grid system by the Moors, along irrigation canals usually fed with water from the nearby Vinalopó River. Even with the orchards looking more like rice paddies after the deluge than part of a sophisticated desert agricultural zone, it was easy to see how the palms not only once provide nutrition and raw materials to the civilizations that they supported, but also offered a shaded garden where other foodstuffs such as pomegranates, grains and olives could grow.
The palmeral oasis retains its importance by representing the transfer of culture and knowledge from one society, and from one continent to another—the sort of knowledge that improved the condition of people living in Europe. However the site, and ultimately its demise, also represents the ills of society and the fears of otherness. The palmeral system fell into decline when the Moors were defeated by the united Iberian kingdoms of Ferdinand and Isabella, and were ultimately expelled from Europe in events which closely coincided with the discovery of the New World and the dawn of the Columbian exchange in another boost of resources and knowledge for the old world of Europe. Thus, the palms also serve as a final reminder that collaboration and cooperation lead to greater things for all of humanity, while actions to the contrary contribute to decline and deterioration. Imagine how much richer this corner of Spain would be if the palmeral were still a functioning system! Instead, we’re only left with mass produced shoes and palm fronds waving in the wind.
Corine loves a good adventure. She's partial to wilderness, UNESCO World Heritage sites and wine. Based in the United Kingdom, she has roamed the trails and streets of six continents. This is a chronicle of her experiences, seasoned liberally with philosophical musings.