France
Story
Medieval

Paris Point Zero

“Point zéro des routes de France” is the reference point for distances from Paris, but the story tells much more.
Ptolemy
26 October, 2022
(by Serge Melki, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)
(by Serge Melki, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

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 did not have this same 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 he/she also wore a noose around the neck and barefoot and kneeling, holding a candle in the hand to ask for forgiveness. For this reason, this point was originally called "The Ladder of Justice."

Standing at the pillory: representation of public humiliation.

As time went on, the Zero Point was identified with other symbols until 1924 when the plaque that we still see today was laid on the ground with a totally different meaning.

Nowadays the spot is sometimes considered as a place of good luck, and many people toss a coin.

(by Groume, CC BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)
(by Groume, CC BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)