Spanish Ironworks Early History To Romanesque Rejas

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Historically, Spain was one of the countries in Europe that produced metal works out of copper, silver, and possibly bronze. This was all before iron was discovered, but no one knows exactly when iron was first used in Spain. There are some hints about its history, but nothing is positive.

Experts do know that Greek colonists operated iron mines in Marseilles, Spain around the sixth century B.C. The iron from these mines was used to make weapons for war. In most cases, conquering forces impose their tools and ways on those they conquer. The Romans, however, adopted the Spanish
after the Second Punic War. It took the Romans quite a while to create this sword, but eventually they became quite adept at sword making.

Spanish Ironworks HistoryMost early examples of iron weapons and daily household utensils have been lost. From the fifth to the eight centuries there is even less information about manufactured iron. The Visigoths didn’t use iron in their armor when they took over the area, and neither did the Moors. They imported weapons and arms rather than use the weapons of they area. They used bronze and other precious metals instead of iron for objects not used for war.

The Moors didn’t conquer all of Spain; in fact the northern provinces of the peninsula remained free. It was from this area that Spanish Christians and other European states were getting their armor, although it is usually classified as being French.

CatalunyaThe northern region of Catalonia has proven to be where early iron smelting evolved. It produced malleable iron which was easily wrought. The earliest examples of Spanish decorative ironwork were produced in the provinces north of Ebro.

Prior to the Catalonian forge, iron was smelted in basin-shaped hollows in the ground which produced small amounts of poor quality iron. The Catalans developed a permanent rectangular hearth, but its construction method wasn’t perfect.

The process was so much better than previous methods that it was used in Europe and possibly Germany and Belgium at the same time it was used in Catalonia. The quality of malleable iron smelted out of these mines made all of the ironwork of the time possible.

Any iron capable of being welded can be called malleable. It then becomes steel as it is tempered which hardens it to the point it can create a spark with flint. Cast iron, on the other hand, cannot be hammered or welded. Malleable iron goes through the process of being heated, hammered, and rolled until it is tough and flexible. It can be wrought while hot, but can also be hammered and bent when it is cold. It also goes through a different grades of workability as it is becomes red-hot and then white-hot. When the iron is at this point, it is easier to stretch it, bend it, or weld it.

Spanish Ironworks Early History To Romanesque Rejas

As the texture of the iron loosens when it is heated, it is quite easy to curl it into scrolls or other shapes if a blacksmith knows what he’s doing. They can then weld, hammer, or press them into rich intricate designs. The blacksmith must work quickly with an anvil, forge and bellows, tongs and chisels to create the desired effects.

Modern decorative ironwork would not be possible if it weren’t for the development of Spanish ironwork of the past. As decorative ironwork continued to spread, other countries had a part in the development of this art form. The changes from those countries will be explained at another time, so be watching for what happens during the Romanesque period.

Southwestern Colonial Ironwork: The Spanish Blacksmithing Tradition from Texas to California

photo credit: Jaume Meneses
photo credit: Philip Larson

photo credit: Jeff Kubina

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frank Turley November 17, 2009 at 10:16 am

I enjoyed your historical coverage. The ironwork leading up to Romanesque was forged of the material, wrought iron. Malleable iron has another meaning, especially in today’s usage. Malleable iron is a heat treated form of cast iron, but it is not forgable.

There exists a semantic confusion. Wrought iron is the forged material that the blacksmith and rejero used. Nowadays wrought iron also means any “decorative or ornamental ironwork,” as in, “I just love wrought iron.” Quite a difference.

The material, wrought iron is also different than today’s currently used “mild steel” in that wrought iron has about 0.01-0.02% carbon content and it contains a slag of about 4%. The slag, an iron silicate, shows as microscopic filaments drawn lengthwise, when the iron material is hammer lengthened or hot-rolled to length. Wrought iron is no longer manufactured, as it is cost prohibitive to do so. Present day mild steel is usually ASTM A36 and contains up to 0.27% of carbon. It contains no slag, but has some manganese added.

“Southwestern Colonial Ironwork” has been reprinted by Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, NM, so that one no longer needs to look for out-of-print copies. It is paperbacked and normally retails at $39.95.

All Best,
Frank Turley, co-author
“Southwestern Colonial Ironwork”

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