The processing of non-precious metals in Sardinia dates back to the era of the Nuragic civilisation and derives from the remarkable bounty of these metals underground.
Traditionally, the blacksmith not only carried out the shoeing of the animals, but also manufactured other articles such as chains, ornate lock-coverings, perforated door plaques, door knockers, spits and other implements for the hearth.
Particularly renowned are the typical bells worn by the animals, made from brass-coated iron sheet.
Blacksmiths were often also armourers and manufactured finely decorated flick-knives and hunting arms. As heirs of this tradition, today the artisan blacksmiths forge a good quality of traditional implements, bronze statues, artistic wrought iron objects, copper household articles and also the much sought after knives.
This is a refined art ranging from the crafting of the traditional "leppas" and "resolzas" (classical flick-knives used by shepherds and farmers), to the collector’s knives which, besides their material worth, are a symbol of "balentia" (positive qualities and moral uprightness).
The forging of knives, result of an ancient skill, requires particular care both in the sharpening of the blade and in the preparation of the handle carved from horn (of moufflons, buffaloes and goats). The most sought after horn is completely black with no veining. The handles are either smooth or accurately carved with brass (or copper) decorations and festoons.
Several villages have maintained their original fame of knife forgers and the knives produced are characterised by singular names and features. The main towns are Guspini (thick bladed knives known as "sa guspinesa"), Arbus (flick-knives known as "s’arburesa"), Gonnosfanadiga (thick bladed turkish-style knives with a dark horn handle bearing two studded rings), Santulussurgiu (a typical knife known as "sa lussulzesa), Dorgali, Desulo, Gavoi and of course Pattada ( knife with a leaf-shaped blade known as "sa pattadese"), the renowned home of flick-knives and site of an I.S.O.L.A. pilot centre.
The Sardinian artisan crafting of wrought iron is characterised by a long and noble history as documented by the splendid artistic features represented and by the expression of a rather elegant style.
On visiting certain country churches or antique historical homes, one can admire the complicated baroque style of gates, railings and grilles, banisters and gratings, both in the gardens and internally. The antique tradition of working wrought iron is still flourishing in Cagliari and Sassari, as well as in a few other smaller villages.
This traditional craft is peculiar to Isili, a small town in the Sarcidano region. The particular art of coppersmiths owes its presence to the considerable distance of the village from the main roads of access and to its vicinity to the Funtana Raminosa copper mine which dates back to the extremely early ages. The Isili coppersmiths are the undisputed masters specialised in the processing of copper, the history of whom is permeated with a certain degree of mystery. These craftsmen are said to descend from a population of nomads or Jews who once inhabited the area. Such beliefs are further confirmed by their use of a strange dialect known as "su romanescu" and by their somatic traits resembling those of the Nordic people rather than Sardinians.
The articles manufactured include large cauldrons for the processing of dairy goods, smaller cauldrons, pans with one long handle or two ring handles, ladles, etc. The colour of the beaten copper, together with the simple original forms, adds to the value of these articles which are still in great demand today as ornaments.
The few foundries which still exist today are all family-managed concerns and the craftsmen are generally related to each other. In recent years the coppersmiths’ art has gone through difficult moments but the craftsmen reacted promptly by organising efficient initiatives, proposing their traditional art as an expression of cultural rediscovery and as an original means of furnishing, providing a wider variety of goods and further developing the artistic articles.
The processing of copper follows a strictly severe schedule: the melting stage, the measuring and the first forging. The bottom of the recipient is then outlined, the border is cut using shears and the object is shaped by beating the copper with a cylindrical hammer.
Subsequently, the edges are bent backwards using pliers and prepared for the insertion of an iron ring. The object is then placed in an acid bath, washed and smoothed, in order to provide the characteristic colour and gleam. Finally the object is decorated using a fine-headed hammer, studs are added and engravings applied.
The processing of bronze, dating back to the Nuragic era, tended to be used in the past in the manufacture of household goods, tools, arms and particularly artistic sculptures. More recently, following a rather difficult period, the use of bronze has been resumed for the creation of Nuragic statues ( the so-called "bronzetti"): tribal chiefs, matriarchal figures, men and women, sacred vessels, animals, etc…
The rediscovery of these models, which have met with a remarkable success among tourists, occurred thanks to the sculptor Franco D’Aspro who grasped the significance of the ancient Nuragic bronzes and reproduced them faithfully, strictly following their original semblance. In order to render the statues more evocative, a particular technique is applied to age the bronze.
At the present time several artisan foundries are operational; they work from a matrix of wax or wood, applying both old and new techniques and methods.