Before The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, the most famous literary thriller involving coded manuscripts, secret societies, and a gruesome sacrifice was Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. An investigation into conspiracy theories and the Templar Knights, a meditation on symbols and language, a serious poststructuralist joke, there’s no doubt that Eco beat Dan Brown to the punch.
But what does any of this have to do with the Musée des Arts et Métiers?
Well, for one, the book’s namesake – designed in 1851 to prove that the Earth does indeed spin on its axis – is on display at the museum. Additionally, much of Foucault’s Pendulum is narrated via flashback by a character who is hiding in the museum (inside an old periscope) after closing hours.
But of course, you don’t have to do any background reading to enjoy the Musée des Arts et Métiers. Dedicated to the history of technology and machines, you’ll find all manner of inventions here, from the first car prototype (an 18th-century steam-powered French invention known as a fardier), a propeller-powered land-vehicle (which reached speeds of 70km/hr but never took off with the public), a bat-shaped steam plane (also never got off the ground), and some 3,000 other objects, ranging from rare antiques to detailed scale models – including two Statues of Liberty.
It’s also a good museum for children (ages 6 and up), particularly budding physicists and engineers. Demonstrations of the famous pendulum are given twice a day at noon and 5pm.