Perched on a rocky outcrop, facing the Chaîne des Puys, Thiers impresses visitors with its striking medieval architecture. Its narrow, winding streets reveal half-timbered, corbelled or even turreted houses … reminiscent of Tuscany at sunset.
Built on the steep slopes of the Durolle Valley, between the Forez mountains and the Limagne plain, Thiers is the leading town in an area that groups around 130 hamlets which, like it, have a long history of living off mixed farming, vineyards and orchards, not forgetting their closed fields and gardens…
In some ways, Thiers resembles the Cevennes – it is built on southern slopes patiently developed from untamed nature, a gigantic staircase fashioned through time by its farming population. The gradual abandonment of this once populous landscape heightens the solemn beauty of these derelict industrial lands that silently line the lower banks of the Durolle river from the Moutier to the “Bout du monde”.
Whether walking across bridges, wandering along narrow streets or climbing up to viewpoints that offer spectacular panoramas, walkers are confronted with an extraordinary urban setting that, everywhere, bears the trace of a prodigious effort – so often thwarted or frustrated.
While the newer districts of the modern town extend out into the plain, the historic town of the stubborn farmer-cutlers is the perfect setting for a lovely walk.
Its cliff-like, stepped layout and its ancient buildings draw the visitor in and steep their curiosity… In Thiers, like everywhere else, the dream ignores worldly aspects. The known history of Thiers begins in the lower town, on the left bank of the rushing river, where the valley widens towards the plain. A Merovingian village, no doubt already famous for its fairs, huddles around a church that watches over the relics of Saint Symphorien. Destroyed in the first half of the 6th century, Thiers was rebuilt, expanding outwards onto the rocky outcrop on the river’s right bank. This defensive choice drove the growth of the medieval town. While the early site located near the edge of the river was taken over by the Cluniac order, the upper town organised itself around Saint-Genes church and the feudal castle of the lords of Thiers.
Where the Auvergne and the Forez meet, an obligatory point of passage between Lyon and Clermont, the feudal lords of Thiers formed useful alliances, thus guaranteeing their independence. This resistance is probably what gave the Thiernois their pioneering, rebellious spirit. From the beginning of the 14th century, the development of new techniques enabled town dwellers to tame the Durolle river. Thus, the town inaugurated the industrial age on a solid agricultural base.
Following in the steps of the “ram hammers” and the tanneries came the rise of metal working and paper manufacture. The town built a solid reputation as an industrious city based on its exceptional manufacturing skills and know-how. Over time, Thiers developed into a flourishing trading post, sending its goods across the whole of western Europe and the Americas. Towards the middle of the 19th century, nearly all farmers’ knives in France came from workshops in Thiers. At this time, industrialization of the knife-making town was in full swing.
The increasing demand for closing knives by the popular classes generated large orders that small local manufacturers were unable to meet, leading them to turn to factories in Thiers that produced nearly 50 different models of regional knives. In those days, regional knives usually bore either the name of a region (Le Corse, Le Montpellier, Le Rouennais, Le Laguiole, etc.), or that of their inventor, i.e. the “Pradel”.
Thiers is still known as France’s capital of cutlery manufacture. The industry in Thiers produces nearly 70% of all cutting instruments produced in France. It also claims its status as a world capital based on eight centuries of industry that have forged its knife-making history.
Today, while the Thiers basin is still based around its cutlery and knife manufacture, the 20th century saw the industrial and artisanal diversification of this fertile skills environment (expertise in working with metals and horn), mainly in the forge (automobile parts, surgical prostheses, surface treatments, etc.) and plastics industries.
Find out more at www.thiers-tourisme.fr