Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques: No.5 ~ "Dead Centre of Paris"

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesTop 10 ~ Pavement ~ Plaques

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques
No.5: "Dead Centre of Paris" ~ Introduction 
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

'Don't look down', the saying goes. Well I'm about to ask you to do exactly that, not once but ten times.

Maybe you already have, as you've wandered the streets of Paris, wondering at all the wonders and occasionally tripping over something somewhat strange underfoot without knowing quite what it's about.

Readers of the Da Vinci Code, and the inevitable film, may well be familiar with at least one of the curious metal plaques you'll find lurking down there on the pavement, or the sidewalk as our US friends might prefer.

It turns out that there are quite a few of these things, and I don't mean quite a few copies of the same plaque; there are quite a few completely different metal plaques on the streets of Paris, each with its own story to tell. So let's see what's been under our very feet all this time without our even realising it. If you know of any others which would fit right in to my Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques series, I'd be delighted to hear about them!

Sab's Top Ten Perplexing Paris Pavement Plaques
No.5 ~ "Dead Centre of Paris"

Nope, that title's not some weak joke about a cemetery or something. It really is the dead centre of Paris, in terms of the road system in any case.

In effect, all road distances from and to the capital are apparently measured from this spot. I kid you not. And what better place than the Parvis de Notre Dame? Now that's about as central as you can get.

And historically it makes sense too, for twas from this point (well, not far off) that the old rues Saint-Jacques and Saint-Martin trundled out of the city to the south and the north respectively way back when. The old Roman cardo maxumus, no less!

Interestingly (to me at least!) is the fact that the Roman city wasn't actually centred on the Parvis of Notre Dame (and of course there was neither a Notre Dame nor a parvis (place) in those days), or even on any of the islands themselves.

Probably sensibly they'd chosen an elevated spot, all the better to see around them from, up on the left bank bump known as the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, although 'hill' would probably be closer to the truth.

The old 'point zero', therefore, was more likely to have been somewhere along the rue Saint-Jacques, on the east side of the old forum, around today's Sorbonne area, where the aforementioned 'mountain' attained its zenith.

Being right in front of Notre Dame, this particular Paris plaque performs its perplexing function more than most.

At any given moment you can expect people to be looking, pointing or photographing themselves on or around this curious piece of metal, enjoying the double thrill of being the current centre of attention and at the theoretical converging point of about a billion motorised vehicles heading as directly as possible to the kernel of the Big Pea.

Now come on, have you never had your photo taken on this particular spot, and if not, why not! You owe it to yourself and your grandchildren!

So get yourself over to the world's most famous cathedral and let your inner tourist hang out for all to see. Right now there's a tree to ogle at too so no excuses, it's the city's ultimate photo op. Until the next one.



* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

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