A cross, a point and a line: Le tour du monde en un clin d’oeil, the world seen from Paris
The map we are presenting here is spectacular: Le tour du Monde en un clin d’oeil (the world in the blink of an eye) is an example of how “we” tend to put ourselves in the centre of our representation of the world, thus conceive “ourselves” as the centre of the world.
Le tour du monde en un clin d’œil of Le Monde Illustré
The map was a supplement to the First of January’s Le Monde Illustré, a then-famous French magazine. It was drawn by Daniel Vierge and M. M. Scott and engraved by Fortuné Méaulle.
Let us try to explain some interesting features before moving to what interests us most, the map’s axis:
1- “The World” is reduced to the Northern Hemisphere between California and India: interesting to see that one quarter of our Planet is considered as the whole.
2- There are two illuminous parts in this quarter-a-world: Jerusalem and Greece. Needless to say that for the XIXth-Century French, as for most of the Europeans, Civilisation has its roots in those two places: the Jewish and the Hellenic traditions (which converge to create “Christendom”).
3- Rome is illustrated by the Papal tiara and the Keys of Saint Peter: the Holy See was then, and still is, the most important feature of the city. Yet it is shadowed by the Savoyard Kingdom of Italy’s flag, which had taken over Rome in 1870, six years before drawing the map.
4- Around the North Pole there is a great luminous circle with the name “Mer Libre?” with a question mark: maybe the authors are still hoping to find the so called Northwest Passage or hope that this hypothetical passage would be free and open to all.
The axis mundi in the map
The most interesting feature of this map is its axis: the map is centred, discreetly, on the famous Paris Meridian, the French prime meridian before 1911. This French prime meridian is the axis mundi for the French of that time: all evolves and happens around France, and France evolves around Paris, and Paris has this meridian as its prime axis, so all happens around this axis. On the map Paris is marked by a stele or a column: is it the symbol of a prime meridian, so an “axis of the world”? Could be.
But another interesting feature is the beginning of this reference line: above the sphere of the Earth and when the Paris Meridian there is an alpha-and-omega cross: it is the transcendent part of the axis mundi, that is, what makes it the most important prime line in the World.
Inside Paris the Meridian passes inside the Observatory, established in the Seventeenth Century. By the XIXth Century observatories took important national roles as focal points of prime meridian and the national time. The Paris Observatory still hosts a tracé (a marking) of this meridian. And the garden to the north of it, Le Jardin des grands explorateurs, runs around the Paris meridian with its sides parallel to it.
The logics of the axis between a cross and a point: a “pivot” of the World
The logics of placing a cross can be similar to the analyses of the axis mundi by Mircea Eliade in his Le sacré et le profane: the axis of the world is but where the Transcendental of “Above” connects with our “reality”: where the holy existence opens to the profane one –ours, and thus gives it meaning and continuity. Actually the spectator of this World is in the outer Space; he/she has to be in the “Above” in order to see the Globe this way and with the eyes fixed on France for the case presented in our map. When thinking that the map had been drawn in 1876, long before the first human went to the outer Space, it becomes obvious how imaginative and scientific the authors were.
The visio Mundi put forward by the authors and those who commissioned the map is interesting: the centre of the world is where we want it to be. Cartographers point out to the tendency to “place ourselves” in the centre of the World: we look at the world as if we were outside it, as if we were gods in a transcendental experience, and we place ourselves in the centre of the world we know. The axis between “us” and the Transcendental is the pivot around which all the world evolves and all things happen.
The Paris meridian is again an example of the persistence of a centre over the time, besides our previous example of the Point Zéro de la France. While the Point Zéro functioned as a centre of the city and a kilomètre zéro of France the meridian was meant to be an axis of the entire world and the beginning of world maps.
 Le Monde Illustré was a prominent French newsmagazine, between 1857 and 1938.
 Daniel Vierge (1851-1904) was a Franco-Spanish illustrator. Fortuné Méaulle (1844-1901) was a French engraver.
 The frontières naturelles of France are clear on the map: needless to say that the notion of natural borders was too important to Nineteenth-Century nationalisms. There is a hand grabbing a part of France to the east of the country: for sure it is the Prussian occupation of the Alsace-Lorraine in 1870.
For more information please visit this interesting BBC article on the last unmapped places in the World.
You can also visit two other articles on this site, the first about the Matteo Ricci world map centred on China; and the second about Chinese centralities.
For furthern information on the map you can visit its page on David Rumsey Map Collection, a great map site online.
The Paris Observatory page would be interesting, and the Paris Meridian Internet page offers a good descrption of this Line very important in French history.