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The Paris Meridian

In 1718 and thus, long before Greenwich, the Paris Meridian was established as the Prime Meridian (Zero Meridian) to map the world. In 1666, King Louis XIV of France had authorized the building of an observatory in Paris to measure longitude. Once built, the meridian bisected the observatory’s site in an exact north-south divide. French cartographers used the Paris Meridian as their prime meridian for almost 200 years. The idea for such a geopolitical rule of the Old World had already been initiated in 1634 by King Louis XIII, with Cardinal Richelieu as cohort.

The Paris Meridian was replaced in 1884, when the Greenwich Meridian was adopted as the prime meridian of the world at the International Meridian Conference in Washington DC. France and Brazil had abstained from voting. France held on to the Paris Meridian as a rival to Greenwich until 1911 for timekeeping purposes and until 1914 for navigation. To this day, some French cartographers continue to indicate the Paris Meridian on a number of maps.

In Mallorca, or rather on the island of Sa Dragonera, you will find markings identifying the Paris Meridian as it passes through the Illes Balears. In modern-day measure, the site is marked as 2° 20′ 14” E in reference to the Greenwich position. At the spot in Sa Dragonera, you will also find a plaque commemorating François Aragó, the French physicist, mathematician and astronomer and, from 1830, director of the Paris Observatory. He had recalculated the Paris Meridian with greater precision. François Aragó had visited Mallorca and, I imagine, Sa Dragonera, in 1808.

Both photos were taken on the island of Sa Dragonera by my friend, Lluís G. Moragues.

Moltes gràcies, Lluís.

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