If you ever find yourself walking down the winding, narrow streets of the central Bologna market as I did this summer, you will find the Antica Aguzzeria Del Cavallo. The green-rimmed door is a push, which swings you back to the 1700’s. The small, cramped shop barely has enough room for more than five people to comfortably fit. The walls are decorated with knives, scissors, and other sharp cooking utensils surrounded by thick glass cases. There are tall silver shelves that hold the purchasable merchandise, things such as salad tongs, swiss army knives, bowls, among many others. Behind the short counter, you will find Maria Testoni, standing in front of a background of old, antique knives and swords. Maria’s warm and bright smile can make anyone feel at home in her shop. “It’s been owned by family since 1873” Maria says, “my sister and me are the sixth generation and its always been in my family.” The shop has sold the same merchandise since 1783, knives. The utensils have varied with the time period, but the products have virtually stayed the same. A tool used to shave sheep is clearly less useful in the twenty-first century, but you can still find these utensils on display in the antique shop. “We sell a lot of strange goods” says Maria.
“In the past we were a hunting and fishing shop” Maria says. The family lived in the back of the shop, where there was also a place to sharpen swords, blades, knives. “Now we are a kitchen to and we are specialized in cutlery and knives.” Maria excitedly chatters about her family’s shop partially in English and partially in Italian. The shop was opened by a man in 1783, but Maria’s female descendants have worked there since the day it opened. “My family are all women. The shop was bought by my grandmother at the beginning of the twentieth century.” With a large swell of pride, Maria explains that only the women in her family have worked at this shop, selling knives and other tools to fisherman and hunters. She begrudgingly admits “my dad and uncle helped occasionally as well.” The shop for the most part though, has been entirely run by the powerful women of this family.
Although the shop was opened in 1783, the building contains a column that has been there since the 13th century. Maria excitedly gestures for us to come around the back to take a look at it. The column stretches up and takes a sharp right as it holds up the ancient walls of the shop. Maria is required to upkeep the column but she doesn’t mind. She thinks it gives her shop character.
Maria’s passion for her shop is clear. She chats animatedly about it. “I love it because it’s a family job, also because my mother is attached to the place, she loves it.” Maria and her family have a deep set connection with the shop. It is a place of pride and history. They could not be more proud of their ancient roots. “It’s not only a shop but a place for people to meet and spend time together and have a chat.”
The shop’s history is rich in Italian tradition but also a bold strip of feminism. The powerful women of this family have gone against the grain and have sold a product that in the past has typically been associated with men. The women of Antica Aguzzeria Del Cavallo have managed to uphold Italian tradition while also breaking it, paving the way for other women since 1783.