Embedded in the paving stones on the ‘parvis’ or square just outside of Notre-Dame de Paris on Île de la Cité is the point from which all distances in France are measured. This special paving stone bears the inscription ‘POINT ZERO DES ROUTES DE FRANCE’.
The stone is a symbol of Paris as the centre of the French universe. Just as all roads lead to Rome, all routes in France lead from Paris: more than one million kilometres of highways and byways both national and regional. Places all over the country are identified in terms of their distance from it. It is just one example of how the cathedral is the very heart and soul of France.
Officialized by royal order in April 1739, its central symbol is a ‘rose des vents’ or what we call the points of a compass.
Thousands of tourists find this discreet bronze marker and take souvenir photos of themselves or their feet by the famous stone. Thirty-three years ago this month, I was one of them. Shortly after arriving at Charles de Gaulle, armed with a few words of French and a deep conviction that living with my French fiancé would do the rest, I stood there and felt for all the world like I was at the centre of the universe.
I was far from home and far from feeling at home. That would take years. But I knew, somehow, that I had arrived. That year in Paris became the ‘point zero’ for the rest of my life.
Have you seen the famous stone in Paris? Or do you have a special time or place that became your own personal point zero?