The Panthéon is one of Paris’s most famous landmarks, a neoclassical mausoleum that serves as a monument to the likes of Voltaire and Dumas. For a full year, it was also home to a group of infiltrators with an unusual mission. The Untergunther is a branch of the Paris-based UX, a group of so-called cultural guerrillas. With a membership of about 150 students and thirtysomething professionals, including lawyers and nurses, the UX explores and secretly revitalizes neglected parts of France’s cultural heritage—including the Panthéon’s clock.
Since the 1990s, the UX has held parties in Paris’s historic underground catacombs, staging nocturnal plays and presenting read-
ings in Métro stations and public monuments. The Parisian authorities learned of its existence in 2004, when police uncovered a subterranean cinema, bar and restaurant under the Seine; a special police unit has since been trained to track the marauders.
Comprised largely of architects and historians, the Untergunther is the branch of the UX that specializes in restoration. For 15 years, they’ve been quietly refurbishing some elements of Paris’s heritage that the government hasn’t bothered with. In September 2005, the Untergunther established a secret workshop and headquarters in the Panthéon, under the monument’s dome. Over the course of a year, they worked at night under the guidance of a professional clockmaker, restoring the building’s elaborate clock. Installed in the 1850s, it had broken in the 1960s and since been left to rust. The group’s work wasn’t noticed until the Untergunther revealed its completion to the Panthéon’s administrators.
The Centre for National Monuments was outraged, and began legal action against the group members, but last week the charges were thrown out of court for lack of evidence. The Untergunther, meanwhile, are already at work on another restoration effort somewhere in Paris. Its location is unknown. M
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