The Da Vinci Code
Visiting the Streets of Paris

Visitor Opinion -
The Zurich Bank is supposed to be at 24 rue Haxo, and the characters cross the Bois de Boulogne, West Paris, to get at it. Rue Haxo is in the 19th and 20th quarters, East of Paris. They couldn't possibly have crossed the Bois de Boulogne from the Gare St Lazare to get to the Bank, at the exact opposite side of the city.

But anyway, this is still a novel, and the author may well have chosen voluntarily to play with geography, in order to have his way. And the vision of a foreigner about Paris is always a bit distorted, sometimes even completely obsolete !

For instance, I work near St Sulpice Church, and doubt that there are any prostitutes on that place during the night (Ch. 15), since there is a police station on the opposite side of the place... anyway, the residents (welfare people) would never allow such a sacrilege !

My Response -
That's actually a real shame in several ways. First, obviously lots of people will want to go out and "walk in the steps" of the book. If he didn't even get those basic streets down properly, it makes you wonder how well he researched the other more difficult parts of the subject matter. It's also disturbing that he plays footloose with prostitutes, since one of the huge issues the book tries to address is that Mary M wasn't a prostitute but was labelled as one. So on one hand he's trying to unravel that Mary M was a wealthy woman - and on the other hand he randomly tosses prostitutes into his own story to enhance a scene.

Visitor Opinion -
To go from the Louvre to the US embassy is actually quite direct: just follow Rue de Rivoli for a bit less than a mile. The US embassy is on Place de la Concorde. If you pass the US embassy and continue west, you will end up on Champs Elysees. Hence Sophie and Robert made quite a detour if they had to go through Champs Elysees to reach the US embassy from the Louvre.

My Response -
It definitely makes one question the sort of research Dan put into the more serious issues in the book if he didn't have a simple street map available when he was writing his material.

Visitor Opinion -
I have been interested to read about the various factual mistakes in "The Da Vinci Code". Being a Parisian myself, I concur with what was said earlier about Dan Brown's strange understanding of street layout in Paris.

Regarding the large square in front of the Saint Sulpice church, it is indeed true that there is a police station, but it's only a small one and it closes at night. However, the St Sulpice neigborhood is very expensive and mostly residential with many luxury fashion outlets : the influent and affluent people who live there would not tolerate prostitutes in the square, and would have the necessary clout to have them removed, would any ever come.

Also, it is almost impossible to figure out where and how the cars go around the Louvre, at the beginning of the book. Brown does an awful lot of street name-dropping, but it just doesn't add up ! The most ridiculous part of it is when the police car goes through the Tuileries garden, when there are very wide and straight throughfares on each side (the river bank and the rue de Rivoli), on which a car would go a lot faster than driving "cross-country"... :o))

My Response -
Again I find this a great shame. Half of the fun of a book you really enjoy that is "set somewhere" is to go to that place and visit the spots. A lot of people do that with Spenser for Hire books (a series I enjoy a great deal) and with James Bond films for example. It really wouldn't have taken a lot of effort for him to get a street map and make sure his writing was based in reality for those scenes. Such a small initial effort - but such a widespread end result for not bothering to take the time.

Visitor Opinion -
Thanks for putting together a whole lot of information of errors and "poetic license" in Mr. Brown's book. To tell the truth, it was a fun read but not remotely as good as a Frederick Forsyth or a Danielle Thiéry. Because it's quite a good book, I am amazed at how badly many portions of it are researched. Almost everything about Parisian topography is wrong. I used to live in Paris for six years and that's why I found blatant errors every now and then. To add a few to those that are already mentioned:

- There's no way to enter the Tuileries Gardens by car, especially not where Brown locates the Northern entrance.

- You can't park your car next to the Pyramid; the height difference from the street to the Louvre paved courtyard is about 40 cm - too much for any car.

- It is impossible to see the Centre Pompidou from the Pyramid (you would have to tear down the Richelieu wing).

- The Joconde (Mona Lisa) is not in a separate room, it's in the Grande Galerie.

- You can't buy a ticket for Lille at Saint-Lazare station. Saint-Lazare is the station where trains leave for Caen, Cherbourg, or Rouen. Trains bound for Lille leave at North Station (Gare du Nord).

- If Teabing's Château de Villette is close to Versailles, it cannot be northwest, but only southwest of Paris city center. (I haven't been able to locate such a château.)

- Admitting rue Haxo is close to Roland Garros (which it isn't) you can't find any highway that passes through woods in the time Langdon and Neveu do so after they fled from the Zurich Depositary (which is a bankhouse I couldn't find either).

Don't get me wrong, the book is a jolly good read, but when all the details that are supposed to make it lively tell you that the author eyed the royalties rather than the reader, that's sad somehow.

My Response -
Thanks for the list, I'm sure it'll be incredibly helpful for tourists going to Paris to trace the steps!

Visitor Opinion -
I mentioned regarding Sophie and Langdon's strange trip from le Louvre to the US embassy going through Champs Elysees (quite a detour actually). Interestingly my dad is currently reading the French version of the book, where this "mistake" has been corrected. Another geographical mistake, already mentioned by a visitor, concerns the address of the Bank of Zurich at 24 Rue Haxo. In the French version of the book the address is 24 Rue de Longchamp, which is located in the western part of Paris and makes more sense considering Sophie and Langdon's itinerary. Seems like the obvious geographical mistakes that would make a Parisian laugh have been corrected in the French version! Another error I have noticed (in both the French and English versions) has to do with the Church of Saint-Sulpice. The book says it was "built over the ruins of an ancient temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis" (p. 88). This is complete nonsense! The Church was built over the ruins of the previous gothic-style church, which was deemed too small. Construction started in 1646, by which time there were not too many Isis worshipers left in Paris (if there ever were). Cheers.

My Response -
It's interesting that he's fixing errors as he goes. I wonder if you buy a later printing of his book if the errors will slowly vanish from them :). That is pretty funny about Isis worshippers in 1646 - although wasn't there that "young Sherlock Holmes" movie that had a secret cult of Egyptian goddess worshippers working in secret in the middle of London? Hmmmmmmmmmmm ....

Visitor Opinion -
Brown gives the impression that the Rose Line running through St Sulpice is somehow relevant. He also states incorrectly that the zero longitude of the entire world ran through Paris until 1888. The Greenwich and Paris meridians were defined by the Observatories and the telescopes in them used to chart the stars and both were in use until (and beyond) 1888. The fact that the Paris meridian runs through the Church of St Sulpice is a complete coincidence.

Also, Paris was not stripped of the "honour" of having the prime meridian, it was a practical decision based on the stength of British sea trade at the time. Until the development of accurate sea clocks the exact position of the prime meridian was not that critical. (For more information read the excellent "Longitude" by Dava Sobel)

My Response -
Thanks for the notes!


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