Kropa – the unique heritage of iron-forging in Slovenia
When we took off from Ljubljana to Radovljica on a September morning, the day looked just perfect to be visiting the Gorenjska region of Slovenia. The late summer sunbeams were tenderly gliding over the green landscapes, while the eyes were resting high on the magnificent mountain peaks appearing in front of us …
So here we were, wanting to make the most of this day doing wonderul things – such as walking around the beautiful town of Radovljica (read our blog Radovljica – a town full of history, beauty and charm) and enjoying some polka music sounds in the famous Avsenik Museum in Begunje (read our blog about Our visit to the Avsenik Museum).
But in the afternoon we head to Kropa.
Arriving to Kropa – is this place even real?
As soon as we arrive to Kropa, we can tell this place is truly something special. There is noone in the sight, we are not even sure if the town is real or it is a museum, – a place put together only for the visitors to admire it. We decide to continue with walking up the main road, not much time passes and we spot some of the blacksmiths’ products. And there are more and more with every new step we take: unique iron fences, remarkable wrought iron window covers, quirky door handles, beautiful iron street lamps, even an old anvil just lying out there by the road …
Kropa’s long years of iron-forging tradition definitely left an incredible mark on the life of this little town.
The day is warm, but in Kropa it feels fresh. The sounds of the Kroparica stream running past the village are adding to the charm and to the coolness of the atmosphere.
Kropa used to supply Europe with spikes and nails
It’s amazing to think, that this quiet, small village was once home to thousands of blacksmiths and their families who through centuries lived and worked here. Their heavy hammers striking hard steel all day long, often up to 16 hours per day, from dawn to dusk, resting only on Sundays. Over a hundred different types of nails were minted in the workshops, one single blacksmith had to make 2000 of them daily.
With just a few strokes, they first formed a tip and then a nail’s head. The smallest nails were less than two centimeters long. The longest – 70 centimeters long ones, were minted by three people – a master and two apprentices. Only the best masters knew how to make nails for heavy winter shoes.
The life of the Kropa blacksmiths was hard. They began to work already as children, at the age nine or ten. Besides taking care of families, women also worked in the blacksmith’s workshops, often returning to working in the heat, noise, and dust of the forges ten days after giving birth.
After the industrial production took over, the hard-working and gifted blacksmiths of Kropa chose not to submit. They turned their trade into art and focused their efforts in creating ornate wrought ironworks, which required traditional skills that could not be produced by modern industrial techniques.
The strategy of emphasizing quality over quantity proved to be successful, today Kropa is still synonymous with decorative cast-iron fittings.
Visit Kropa Iron Forging Museum
Metalworking has existed in Kropa since the Middle Ages. The location of the town was perfect: The Jelovica plateau provided abundant iron ore and fuel in the form of wood, while the town’s Kroparica stream provided plenty of energy to run the forges. The town experienced its first boom in the 14th century, and its growth continued. By the early 19th century, Kropa boasted almost 30 forges, as well as two iron foundries.
The rich legacy of the manual forging of nails and artistic iron forging is attested to in the Kropa Iron Forging Museum, located by the main street. You will spot it at once, it is open all year-round, it also has a small gift shop with a good variety of lovely souvenirs. The museum is definitely worth visiting!
There is a lot more to see and learn about Kropa besides the Iron Forging Museum. Prior to your visit we would suggest you to stop at the Tourist Information Office in Radovljica, where they will tell you about all the points of interest in Kropa. They will also supply you with the maps.
The Kropa Iron Forging Museum was opened in 1952 as the first technical museum in Slovenia. It is located in the old 18th-century forging house known as Klinar House (a very well preserved mansion by a forge owner) and it covers the technical and historical development of iron-working from iron ore to nail.
After visiting the museum we stop at Pr` Kovač or translanted to English –At the Blacksmith’s Inn . This really is the only way to round up our fantastic affternoon in Kropa. Next year we will definitely come back for the annual three day Kropa Iron Forging Festival (Kovaški šmaren) which takes place during the first weekend of July.
Watch a short video of iron forging demonstration: