Musée de la Coutellerie

Museum in Thiers

Split across two buildings, this museum gives an entertaining account of cutlery-making history. In number 23, a kid-friendly sound-and-light show evokes the dazzling, deafening conditions of a medieval workshop. Continue down the street to number 58 to see sparks fly in a knife-making demonstration on centuries-old equipment. Demos are in French only, but written information is available in other languages on request. In summer, pair a trip to the museum with visiting open-air Vallée des Rouets, 4km northeast of Thiers.

In medieval Thiers, fashioning knives was literally back-breaking. Workers lay face-down at their stations for their entire working day, to use the full force of their body weight to sharpen steel. Meanwhile knife-makers' wives used leather-covered wheels to buff and polish the blades, also gruelling work – though period artwork at the museum also depicts women bashing out blades, side by side with men.

The museum showcases ostentatious creations such as 18th-century knives with ivory handles while neatly contextualising the experience of Thiers' workers against the challenges of present-day mass manufacture. Ironically, Thiers once exported knives to China, and now it's the reverse.

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