The Former Paris Meridian Line is Now Traced by a Trail of Bronze Medallions

The Disused Paris Meridian Line is Remembered Today by a Trail of Bronze Medallions

The Disused Paris Meridian Line is Remembered Today by a Trail of Bronze Medallions

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
April 15 2015 9:15 AM

The Invisible Tribute to the Paris Meridian 

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A series of bronze medallions dots the streets of Paris in a pattern that would seem random to those who do not know their origin, but in fact they follow what was once one of the most important lines in the world. 

In the early 19th century, astronomer François Arago, working off of centuries of prior calculations, solidified a global meridian line that ran right through Paris. As it had already been for hundreds of years in France, Arago’s meridian was widely accepted by many astronomers and researchers as the “Prime” or “Zero” dividing line of the globe.


Unfortunately, his was not the only meridian in competition to be The One. At the 1884 International Meridian Conference, which was put together specifically to determine which line of longitude would become the one true king of global spacial measurement, it was decided that the meridian line running through Greenwich would become the prime. This unfortunately left Arago and the centuries-old Paris meridian out in the cold, to be largely forgotten by time and progress.

However, some reminders of the Paris dividing line still remain, the most recent of which is an “invisible” monument to Arago’s work. Created by Dutch artist Jan Dibbets, the sprawling monument consists of 135 bronze medallions that have been set into the Paris streets along the path of the Paris meridian from the northern tip of the city to the southern tip. Each 5-inch coin bears Arago's name and an N and S to mark the direction they are pointing. The entire trail stretches over five miles. 

Despite centuries of development and entire lives of work devoted to establishing the Paris meridian, it often seems that it has been completely forgotten. Thanks to the Arago Medallions, countless travelers each day can remember a time when Paris was the center of the world.

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Eric Grundhauser is a head writer and editor at Atlas Obscura. He lives in Brooklyn with his comic book collection. Follow him on Twitter.