TWO Italian apprentices have rekindled a centuries-old link with Edinburgh – by taking up their tools to start work as sword- makers.
Marco Danella, 30, and Dario Batzella, 20, are reviving the tradition of Scottish-Italian sword-making, which dates back to the late 16th century when Italian master bladesmith Andrea Ferrara is believed to have travelled to Scotland to work with the country's sword-makers.
Paul Macdonald, 36, who will train them, established Macdonald Armouries in 1998 after working for a company which made swords for tourists. He is now Edinburgh's only sword-maker, creating authentic reproductions of historical weapons and works for collectors, museums and enthusiasts who still fight with the swords in a martial art known as historical fencing.
After working alone at the workshop, just off London Road, for many years, he decided to take on the two apprentices when they both approached him two weeks apart. Neither had met the other before but both were keen to become bladesmiths.
Mr Macdonald said: "I had to consider whether it was the right time for the armoury because I've been approached a good number of times before by people wanting to apprentice. It was a little early in the business to do that then, but I thought now it's the right time to start passing on skills."
He said he was also delighted to continue the historic links between Scotland and Italy's sword-makers. "It's quite historic really, it's quite important. I'm in touch with an Italian from Belluno, which was where Andrea Ferrara had his forge in Italy, and between the two of us we're doing research about the history of Andrea Ferrara."
He was such a household name that for hundreds of years "Andrea Ferrara" was the slang term for a Highland broadsword.
The apprentices, both from Rome, will spend two years working at the armoury in Brunswick Street Lane. They plan to support themselves by working part-time elsewhere while they learn their craft.
They will also study the art of historical fencing to help them understand their weapons better. Mr Macdonald is the UK's only professional in the discipline and teaches regular classes in Edinburgh.
Mr Batzella already lives close to the armoury and plans to combine his studies with working part-time in a hotel, while Mr Danella has given up work as a plumber in Rome to take up the opportunity to work with Mr Macdonald.
Mr Danella explained: "I'm already a historical fencer and I met Paul in Italy at a fencing meeting. I was already studying to make some swords for my fencing class and I saw that I needed more improvement to keep going, so I got back to Paul and asked him to make me his apprentice."
Mr Macdonald added: "There are no formal courses as such, so this is still the old traditional way of apprenticeship. There are very few sword-makers in Scotland, only a handful. It's not quite a dying art, but it is a rare craft art to keep alive."