“Point zéro des routes de France” is the reference point for distances from Paris, but the story tells much more.
Point zero in Paris is located in the middle of Notre Dame Square, fifty metres from the entrance to the Cathedral of the same name on Ile de la Cité.
It can be clearly seen on the ground of the Square. It is in the shape of a compass rose with a bronze block set in stone in its centre.
From this point, one calculates all distances to Paris, imagining that one always starts or arrives from here.
However, in the past, it had a different meaning.
Since the Middle Ages, this point, perhaps identified formerly with a pole, was the place where a condemned man had to kneel before God, represented by the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and before the people who gathered in this square to ask for amends. On the accused’s body was marked the crime committed. If sentenced to death, they also wore a noose around the neck, were barefoot, and kneeled, holding a candle in their hand to ask for forgiveness. For this reason, this point was initially called “The Ladder of Justice.”
As time passed, the Zero Point was identified with other symbols until 1924, when the plaque that we still see today was laid on the ground and had quite a different meaning.
Nowadays, the spot is sometimes considered a place of good luck, and many people toss a coin.
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