The Sword Makers – Spain Travel

Of commerce hardly a hint. Here and there an offer to supply daily wants of the simplest kind, and, in the Calle del Comercio, a few shop-fronts with belated appointments. The most interesting is that of Alvarez, the best maker of damascene. Murray’s guide-book recommends travelers to purchase this famous Toledo work at the Fabrica de Armas, the Government enterprise. This is wrong advice. The Fabrica produces inferior work, and charges twenty-five per cent. more than the private factories. Some of the work in Alvarez’s shop is exquisite, and, when you have entered his workshop behind, and watched the men slowly and carefully produce this minute art, the wonder is not that it should be so expensive, but that it should not cost more. The Fabrica outside the town is only interesting to lovers of steel. It is quite a vulgar and mod-ern institution, dating from the days of Charles III., the bourgeois monarch, whom a Spanish writer contemptuously described as “an excellent mayor.” In the middle ages, the armorers worked in their own houses, and each master had a band of apprentices. They formed a corporation, and were exempt from taxes and duties in the purchase of materials for this art.

The sword makers of Toledo were a company of European importance, and even the mere sellers of daggers and blades were privileged citizens, whom the very sovereigns and archbishops respected. Toledan steel was renowned in France and England as well as in Italy. On his way to captivity in Madrid, Francis of France cried, seeing beardless boys with swords at their sides, “Oh, most happy Spain, that brings forth and brings up men already armed.” The steel used by the “espaderos” of Toledo came from the iron mines of Mondragon in the Basque provinces. Palomario explains its peculiar excellence by the virtues of the sand and water of the Tagus. When the metal was red-hot, it was covered with sand, and, the blade then formed, it was placed in a hollow wooden tank full of Tagus water. The most celebrated “espadero” of Toledo was Guiliano el Moro, a native of Granada, in the fifteenth century. He became converted after the surrender of Boabdil, and King Ferdinand being his sponsor, was also called Guiliano el rey. Cervantes mentions his mark, which was a little dog. Other great “espaderos” were—Joannes de la Horta, Tomas de Ayala, Sagahun, Dionisio Corrientes, Miguel Cantera, whose motto was “the work praises its maker,” Tomas Ghya, Hortensio de Aguerre and Menchaca Sebastian Hernandez. The decline of Toledan steel is traced to the introduction of French costume; and tho attempts have been made to revive it, the old art, in all its unrivalled beauty, has forever vanished.