Toledo and Crafs
There are many souvenir and gift shops that sell traditional products from Toledo. However, out of all of them, the ones that stand out are those dedicated to ancestral craftwork that has made Toledo renowned all over the world for hundreds of years, such as damascene work and sword-making, above all, and to a lesser extent ceramics, metal forging and woodcraft.
The tradition of Toledo steel has always been legendary. The best swords from the XVI and XVII Centuries were from Toledo, its river, the Tajo, being attributed with almost miraculous properties to give quality to its sheets of metal.
Metalwork continued to be a craft in many cases and in the Castile-La Mancha capital you will be able to take away historic reproductions of some of the most famous swords as a souvenir. There are many shops of fine quality in the city dedicated to this type of prized tourist object, supplied by the major manufacturers that are based in Toledo.
Another of the traditional arts that is included under the name of Toledo is the damascene process, a technique that consists of drawings of shapes on metals or drawings by incrusting threads of gold or silver inside.
Its beauty gives such results that the art has become, together with hand weapons, an identifying sign of the city of Toledo through all of its history.
From Toledo, damascenes are in many places in Spain as souvenirs, but within Toledo one can still see them being crafted by hand in several workshops where damascene pieces of great quality are produced.
This type of decoration, applicable to all artistic objects, incrusting threads of gold or silver into a more common metal, such as blued iron, steel or copper has been practised since ancient times including by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It developed greatly in the East when the Roman Empire moved to Byzantine, the best pieces that arrived from Europe originating from Damascus, meaning that the art took the name of Damascene, although "Ataujía" is more fitting, another name it was given. Damascene work is imitated the world over. The luxury shown in all of Europe from the end of the XV Century contributed to the resurgence of an art that had been forgotten in the West: the sumptuous armour of Carlos I and Felipe II.
As firearms developed, damascene began to lose importance, being reduced to an accessory of gold and silverwork or jewellery.
Toledo is currently the main production point of damascene in the world, and this is where the most diverse pieces can be found. Mudejar and Renaissance style work continues to be carried out, together with some new styles, such as those called "vistas".
Authentic Toledo damascene is a foundation of the prestige of a very refined craft technique. Without doubt, it is the "star" of the metal sector and a source of wealth for Toledo and Castile-La Mancha Craftwork.
When identifying Toledo by its crafts, one is, without doubt, the forging of metals. And within forging, the art of sword-making has been the best known for centuries. Steel from Toledo has been one of the most prestigious in the world since Visigoth times (the VI Century), above all because of its flexibility, ideal for the practising of fencing.
The sword smith used to have special formulas such as reciting certain prayers or humming certain songs connected to forging, to measure how long the immersion of swords in the water took to temper them. Each sword smith had his marks.
The predominance of firearms from the XVII Century began the decline of this old craft. In 1761, aware of this, Carlos III decided to create the so-called "Sword Factory" in Toledo. . From the beginning, the Sword Factory depended on the Royal Artillery, marking the swords with the inscription "Artillery Factory Toledo".
GAT distinguishes swords made in Toledo, is that the blades are not made of pure steel, but rather composed of an interior core of iron, completely covered in steel. With this process, the steel is given more elasticity and hardness plus the ductility of iron.
One of the fundamental factors in the quality of a sword, as well as being well forged, is located in its "temper". This is obtained by heating the blade to a cherry-red heat and then submerging it in water. Before a blade is approved, it is subjected to a large number of tests. That of the cane, of iron and of the "S".
Luxury arms, as well as having the mark of the sword smith or factory, were also decorated using different systems. Damascened, plated gold or silver, enamelled and engraved. The oldest technique is enamelling.
Apart from the blade, what characterises a sword are the frames with which it is finished, as well as the sheath and the hilt.
In the different workshops in Toledo one can admire magnificent reproductions of swords and sabres as famous as those of: Alfonso VI, Boabdil, El Cid, Napoleon, King Arthur, Carlos V, which currently are highly successful on the international market.
Despite having ceased sword-making activity in the Arms Factory, Toledo workshops continue to produce sabres for the Spanish army and some foreign ones too.
The tradition of ceramics in the city of Toledo dates back the XI Century.
It is china, finely decorated with metallic reflections. During the reign of the Taifa king Al-Mamoun, ceramic pieces were produced of incredible beauty.
Jugs, candle holders, dishes, pitchers, and long-necked spherical bottles were all abundant. Decoration was carried out using glass coloured by iron, copper and magnesium oxide etc., as well as the outstanding "cuerda seca" (dry cord) decorations.
The great ceramics worker and researcher Mr. José Aguado holds the theory that the potters in the workshops in Medina Azara and Elvira, after the destruction of these cities, moved to the Toledo Court and there continued manufacturing "luxury ceramics".
There are many buildings and spaces in the open air in Toledo that feature this type of tiling or ceramics and which can be admired during visits.
The characteristic furniture of Toledo and which is present in many old homes, is BARGUEÑO (a Spanish Renaissance cabinet), although entrance hall cabinets of various decorated sizes and arcades are also important. Benches, armchairs, fraileros (Renaissance armchairs), chairs, tables and doors complete the production.
The bargueño, whose name places its origin from the nearby district of Bargas for some and from a carpenter called Vargas for others, has been produced from the XVI Century to today.
The essential quality of this furniture is its transportable character, since the majority of them have handles on the side for said purpose; as well as the almost total absence on the outside of decorative motifs, limiting itself to a light decoration based on forged iron and fretwork. In contrast to the exterior, the inside appears heavily decorated with glass, bone, ivory and tortoiseshell.
The Toledo armchair manufactured with a seat made of bulrush (a plant that grows in marshy places and that can grow to two and a half metres high). Its leaves are the raw material used by the craftsmen.
This is a decorative technique often used in cabinetry. The woods to be carved must be of good quality, be perfectly dry and clean, the most employed being walnut, red pine, birch, oak, olive and box wood.
As well as in Toledo, there are a large number of workshops in other towns of this province, such as Escalonilla, Lagartera, Polán and Ventas con Peña Aguilera.
Another of the arts that is quite common in the city of Toledo is of forged iron and tin products. Historic railings like those at the railway station, the grills on doors and balconies of the houses in the Historic Quarter or the traditional streetlamps in Corpus Christi testify to this.
In some workshops people also still used to work with tin, using the techniques of doubling, cutting, perforating and engraving that produced lamps, decorative candelabras, and mirror frames.
In earlier times, the majority of production was for cooking and commercial products: oilcans, candleholders, milk churns.
Fashions and social changes have exerted a great influence over this profession. Currently, there is still a "decorative-tourist" production line, which has lead to the creation of a collection of objects for the decorative market, in many cases by painting works in bright colours, obtaining very ornamental baroque products of great brightness because of the saturation of colours employed and the variety of geometric shapes.