Paris Meridian – 2nd and 3rd June 2007

The Society trip to visit the Paris Observatory and walk along the Paris Meridian was a great success! Early on Saturday morning 15 members of the OAS boarded a Eurostar bound for Paris on a trip inspired by Paul Murdin’s talk at our most recent Ken Budd Memorial Lecture. Having dumped our bags at our hotels, and grabbed a quick bite to eat, we boarded a busy south-bound Metro, and headed for the Paris Observatory.

We were joined at the Observatory by Paul Murdin and his wife. A special visit had been arranged by Gilbert, and it was one to remember. We walked past the old stable block and a dome containing one of the original photographic atlas telescopes, whis is being restored at present. We were shown three main rooms in the Observatory. The first was a large paneled room contained a collection of old instruments and documents, and statues of Cassini and Laplace. The second was an octagonal room hung with portraits of the Observatory’s many past directors. On its ceiling is a painting showing a classical representation of a transit of Venus, with Venus and Cupid at its centre, Apollo in his fiery chariot above her, and various Earth-bound characters gazing up. The third was the Cassini Room, a long east-west room with a meridian line down its centre. At one end, Arago’s blackboard occupies pride of place. Most of the rest of the room is empty. At its centre is a (now covered) shaft through which Foucault once hung a pendulum to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation. The same shaft has also served to house a zenith telescope and a solar telescope at various times. The highlight of the visit was being taken onto the roof and into the dome of one remaining active telescope at the observatory. The views of Paris were most impressive, and the telescope an interesting design.

From the Observatory we walked more or less along the line of the Paris Meridian, spotting Arago discs as we went, to Saint Sulpice. We had to wait a while for a big service to end before we could go inside to have a look at the meridian line and gnomon inside, but it was worth the wait. The church has also had to deal with being a location for significant plot action in The DaVinci Code, and it’s done this by selling leaflets explaining why the relevant plot details are rubbish.

By the time we’d had enough of looking at the inside of the church it was time to go and find some supper. We had a meal at Le Café de Commerce. It has a roll-off sky-light, and we enjoyed the cool spring evening and the excellent food.

On Sunday morning we headed down to the Louvré to pick up the Meridian again, and then, because the sights had to be seen as well, some went into the Louvré, while the rest of us walked along to Place de la Concorde, stopping off for ice cream and crepe au chocolat, before taking the Metro up to Montmartre. At Montmartre our group splintered further, and some of us managed to find more places where some Arago Meridian discs had once been placed, but we all managed to get back to Gard du Nord in good time to catch the return Eurostar to Waterloo.

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