Its strong presence has spanned more than 2,000 years of history, fueled by fans who reportedly ranged from Carthaginian general Hannibal to Roman legions.
Today, however, the long tradition of swordmaking in the Spanish city of Toledo has shrunk to just two artisan swordmakers – the last living link in a millennia-old tradition.
“Sword making is closely related to the city,” said Antonio Arellano of Artesania Arellanos. “If we lost it, it would be a huge loss for the city.”
Just as the reputation of Toledo’s swords rose centuries ago, so too did the city’s fate. Industry has transformed the city’s narrow, winding streets, littering it with the hundreds of blacksmiths that have made Toledo one of the world’s leading centers for sword making.
Arellano comes from a long line of blacksmiths and started making swords 30 years ago. The tradition had already gone through several revisions, avoiding swords for ammunition. Customers no longer consisted of nobles and swordsmen looking for the best blade money could buy; Instead, the market focused on tourists who wanted to take home a piece of famous Toledo steel.
The Arellanos come from generations of ironworkers.
Even so, the sword’s place in history was enough to ensure the continuity of the craft. “When I started, Toledo was a hotbed for swordmaking – the entire historic center and the periphery were full of workshops,” said Arellano, who at 69 is the last master swordsmith in Toledo.
In recent years, however, the number of local swordmakers has started to decline as they competed with mass-produced swords, most of which were made thousands of kilometers away in Asian countries. Arellano’s handcrafted swords, which can take up to six weeks to manufacture, were largely spared.
What was left of the sector was cut up by the pandemic. “It was a big blow,” said Arellano. When global travel came to a standstill, the crowds of tourists that had long pushed their way through the city’s steep streets disappeared. “I’ve had a lot of tough moments and we’ve always got through, but that feels more serious.”
Alarm bells began to ring in Toledo earlier this year after Mariano Zamorano, the town’s other master swordsmith, announced his resignation at the age of 70 after the owner of the building where his workshop was located decided to leave the property for sale.
Zamorano’s family stepped in and took over the traditional family business with the aim of building a new workshop in the city in autumn. “The process continues,” said Santiago Encinas of Swords Mariano Zamorano.
The artisanal methods of sword making are time consuming and costly; Steel is heated in an open flame before being stretched, shaped, hammered and polished. It takes an average of 15 to 20 hours to complete a sword this way, which costs an average of 400 to 500 euros, Encinas said.
He brushed aside reports of the end of tradition. “It is true that this is a product that is not in high demand, and since demand is lower, it is only logical that there is not room for everyone,” he said. “We’re the one who’s here now, but we won’t be the last.”
His confidence was confirmed by Arellano, whose son plans to take over the business after his retirement. In his case, the pardon came from an unexpected source; the revived interest in history has led to a cascade of television series and theatrical productions seeking to create historically accurate stages.
Most recently, Arellano signed a contract with a theme park depicting historical events where his son will forge and make swords in front of a live audience.
The interest suggests what will ultimately keep the swordmaking tradition alive in Toledo, Encinas said. “It’s a symbol, it will always be a symbol. It’s a tool of history that people find very attractive. “