The navaja knife is an example of Spanish craftsmanship at its (arguably) best and most beautiful. Made in Albacete, it is just one of the many versions of the ornate and visually appealing knives available to discerning buyers.
Have you ever noticed those racks of a vast variety of knives of all shapes and sizes, up to and including machetes, for sale in all kinds of establishments in Spain?
From major shops in the cities selling everything from kitchenware to ceremonial looking swords, your local brico (DIY) store right through to displays in local bars and motorway service stations.
As a former nightclub doorman (nightclub, in the British rather than Spanish sense) I particularly found knives for sale in bars something of a shocking concept. It would be easy to think seeing all this that Spain is a lawless place with such easy access to some pretty formidable looking weapons. It isn’t, but we’ll come back to that later in this article.
Cutlery making in Spain
Spain has a huge history of manufacturing the highest quality cutlery, from swords, through hunting knives and prized professional and domestic kitchenware, a trade inherited from the Moors.
Currently three Spanish cites are recognised as ‘World Cutlery Capitals’. They are Albacete (Albacete, Castilla-La Mancha), Taramundi, Santa Cruz de Mudela (Ciudad Real) and Santa María de Guía (Gran Canaria).
By contrast the UK has only one city holding the title. It won’t came as any surprise to our British readers that it is of course Sheffield.
Notably, Albacete will be hosting the ‘World Cutlery Capitals’ conference this year, the city also boasts its own dedicated knife museum.
The navaja as a fighting knife
You’ve perhaps seen some very ornate and beautifully designed pocket knives – the navaja (which directly translates to ‘razor’ based on the folding blade design).
This particular knife is embedded history as a practical tool and a fighting knife with particular associations to southern Spain (it is often referred to as the Albacete knife) although they can now be found all over Spain.
The design dates back to the 17th century when folding knives became fashionable as laws changed to restrict the use of swords outside of the Spanish nobility.
Fighting knives could go up to a length of 20 inches and fighters could prove to be more than a match for any swordsman combining finely honed knife skills with the use of a cape wrapped around there other arm as a shield.
Schools in knife fighting appeared in all the major cities and it was said that the masters of the art had their own secret and preferred attacks that could identify them from a corpse. Why am I thinking Zorro right now?
These knives were often engraved with phrases like “Do not draw me without cause; Do not sheathe me without honour” and “When this snake bites no physician is of any avail”. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to meet the owners of those blades in a dark alley in an 18th or 19th century city’s dark alley.
It’s easy to forget, given that the navaja knife designs are so ornate and decorative, the origins lie in its original function as a concealed weapon for law abiding and not so law abiding citizens.
Prices now can range from just a few Euros in a service station to many hundreds, or even thousands, for what are essentially works of art made by craftsmen from the finest of materials.
Knife laws in Spain
Nowadays the laws on carrying knives in Spain are very strict. In short, simply don’t carry one unless you have good reason for work, hunting or fishing and the like. Also, be aware that you should also not be transporting knives in a car without good reason (and not in the passenger compartment).
Having said that, how many old guys in local bars have you seen peeling fruit with a pocket knife? Next time, take a closer look and you may find that they are using a beautiful navaja knife.
Also, from personal experience, having had my car searched at a ferry port with a Swiss Army Knife in the glove box and nothing was said, I imagine (and this is only personal opinion) that the Police use some flexibility when it comes to small pocket knives.
Having said that though , if in doubt don’t take your knife out and about!
Alan, along with Elle, is the owner of Spain Buddy. He was born in the North of England (Lancashire) and travelled extensively before eventually settling in Almería. Alan has 3 sons from the first of his 18 marriages, (Sam, Joe & Ben) who are all now adults. You can read more articles by Alan on his personal blog at AlanGandy.com and see more of his photography on his photography website as well as on Flickr and Instagram.
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