“Paris point zero,” also known as “Kilometre zero,” is an often overlooked, not very eye-catching landmark with a useful purpose and a forgotten dark history that tourists usually trample over without realizing it.
What is Paris Point Zero (aka Kilometre zero)?
Paris Point Zero, better known as Kilometre zero in France, is a spot in Paris from where all distances are measured and the starting point for France’s most important national roads.
Its full name is “POINT ZERO DES ROUTES DE FRANCE” (point zero of the roads of France) or (starting point of the roads of France), which describes its original function. All road signs and city distances to and from Paris are supposedly calculated from this very spot.
A point zero marker’s purpose is very similar to how the prime meridian is the starting point of 0° longitude for measuring distance both east and west around the Earth.
The Paris point zero marker is easy to miss
Paris point zero is not a monument or building. It’s not very famous or eye-catching and it’s easy to miss.
Despite being located roughly 50 metres in front of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in the “Parvis de Notre Dame,” a public square called Place Jean-Paul II, tourists often trample over the marker without even realizing its purpose or its forgotten dark history.
Before this spot became the starting point of the roads of France, it was a place of justice. People sentenced to death came to kneel here to make amends for their crimes before being forgiven or sent to the pillory to be killed, tortured or humiliated.
But that’s a story for another time.
To find Kilometre zero, you’ll have to look down at the pavement and search for a large circular stone slab embedded in the ground amongst a sea of square pavers. It’s divided into 4 quarters and has the words “Point Zero Des Routes De France” engraved around the outer perimeter. In the center of the circular stone slab is an 8-sided bronze compass star (aka compass rose) set inside an octagonal brass plate.
To be honest, it looks like a decorative manhole cover, which is why most people walk right over it without realizing its purpose or that it’s even there.
All Roads Lead To Paris:
It all started with an Imperial decree on the 16th of December in 1811. On this day, Napolean designated Paris as the official starting point for many of France’s national roads with a sequential numbering system that fanned out clockwise, supposedly from Kilometre zero.
These Imperial roads were divided into three classes of “Routes Royal” (royal highways)
The most important of these Royal routes, now simply known as Route National or Nationale, were first-class royal routes numbered 1 to 14, radiating out clockwise. (See copy of original decree). All other routes continued the sequential numbering system and were grouped into second and third-class routes.
- (1 to 14) First-class royal routes: all began at Paris, radiating out clockwise.
- 15 to 27) Second-class royal routes: all began at Paris, radiating out clockwise.
- (28 +) Third-class royal routes: Not all began in Paris.
Starting from Paris
|N8||Marseille & Toulon|
|15 to 27|
Before GPS, the internet and modern motorways (Autoroutes), Paris point zero was useful for Parisian residents. Drivers could set their odometers to zero at point zero and follow the directions in early guide books along the Route National highway network.
- Distance from Paris to Berlin: 1055 km /655 miles
- Distance from Paris to Normandy: 179.37 km / 111.45 miles
- Distance from Paris to Barcelona: 830.63 km / 516.13 miles
National routes are still a great alternative for long journeys instead of toll roads along French autoroutes.
Is Place point zero really the centre of Paris?
Some sources claim that Paris point zero doubles as the geographical centre of Paris, and others say it’s only the center of Paris for the purpose of measuring travel distances. Or it could be more of a symbolic centre, as the heart of pairs.
So what’s the answer?
“The centre of Paris” is located 8 minutes away (by foot) at the tip of île de la cité near Place Dauphine, according to IGN. IGN or “Institut géographique national” is the French state-run administration responsible for producing and maintaining geographical information for France.
Either way, it’s pretty close.
Direction to Paris point zero marker (Notre Dame)
Precise Longitude and latitude of Paris point zero
In 2006, the location of the point zero medallion in Place Jean-Paul ii was measured to an accuracy of a centimetre at 48°51′12.24845″N 2°20′55.62563″ E
This is not the same latitude and Longitude for the city of Paris, which on Google maps shows as 48.864716, 2.349014. I have no idea why.
Paris Point Zero Address:
Parvis Notre Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
To get to the spot, you have to cross over to Île de la Cité, one of two natural islands on the Seine River, where the city was founded.
You have two options, take the metro or cross over one of the bridges by foot.
Île de la Cité has its very own metro stop. To get there, take the Fuscia coloured metro line 4 to the metro stop called “cité” in the 4th arrondissement.
Bridges that lead to Île de la Cité.
- Pont Neuf Bridge: the city’s oldest surviving bridge, the Pont Neuf.
- Pont au Change
- Pont Notre-Dame
- Pont d’Arcole
- Pont au Double
- Petit Pont
- Pont Saint-Michel
Paris Point zero is one of many around the world.
Paris isn’t the only city that has a Point Zero marker. It’s one of many found mainly in capital cities such as Berlin, Moscow, Madrid, and China.
They all serve as a city’s center point or starting point from which all distances are measured, and they’re known by different names in different places.
Countries that use the metric system, like France, tend to call it Kilometre zero.
Here are some other names point zero and Kilometre zero are known by.
- Zero Stone
- Zero Milestone
- Zero Mile
- Mile Zero
- Zero Mile Marker
Zero mile markers and kilometre zero markers look different around the world.
Point zero markers can look different and have different shapes and sizes.
While Paris” Kilometre zero is a discreet, rather plain bronze and stone slab in the ground, some cities have huge ornate monuments.
They can also be sculptures, inscribed stone pillars, obelisks in a plaza, or a simple plaque on a wall.
Zero Milestone Marker monument in Washington D.C.
America’s version of a point zero marker is a granite zero mile marker monument installed in 1920, which isn’t actually the zero mile marker for any roads. It’s purely symbolic and sits on the south side of the White House in Washington D.C.
Prior to 1920, the Jefferson Pier stone, erected in 1801 next to the Washington monument, was used as a zero marker point from which distances were determined in Washington DC.
Incidentally, the man who designed the Jefferson Pier Stone was a Parisian-born man named Pierre Charles l’Enfant. He originally went to America to fight in the Revolutionary War. Much of the capitals design is based on L’enfant’s plans.
All roads lead to Rome and the original milestone marker
The most famous distance or starting point marker is the Roman Milliarium Aureum (Golden Milestone), whose remains are located in the Forum of Ancient Rome.
Some historians believe that Julius Ceasar’s great-nephew, Emperor Augustus erected the marble or bronze Golden Milestone marker as the starting point for the Roman road network, which also displayed the distances to major cities in the entire Roman empire.
All that is left of Romes’s ancient milestone marker is the base (pictured above) with “Millarium Auveum” inscribed at the base.
This ancient Roman Milestone marker may have been where the expression “All roads lead to Rome” may have originated.
Roman Roadmarkers: Milestone road markers
As the Roman empire expanded across Europe, they used thousands of milestones (milliaria) all along the Roman empire’s intricate road system to mark distances.
These Roman milestone markers were usually simple obelisks, stone pillars, marble or granite with inscriptions that included a distance from the start or “head” of the road. You can still find these ancient road markers along old roads with their weathered inscriptions barely readable. List of Roman milestones).
A Roman mile (mille passum, meaning “a thousand paces”) was measured by 1,000 paces. Each pace was equivalent to five Roman feet lined up heel to toe. In other words, one Roman mile was equal to 5,000 Roman feet. In toddays measurements thats about 4,850 ft / 1, 480 meters.
Superstitions surround Paris point zero.
Paris Point Zero is not only a mysterious and iconic spot, but it’s also associated with good luck and good fortune.
- Your wish will come true if you place a foot in the circle.
- If you
kisssomeone while standing in the circle, you’re sure to have eternal love and devotion, a dream destination for many who visit Europe.
- If you stand in the Point zero circle, you will always return to Paris, a dream for many tourists.
To wrap up
The next time you’re standing in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral and see a group of people staring at a spot on the ground, you’ll know why.