Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Untergunther ("Cultural Guerrillas") - a compelling reason to return to the Pantheon

Pantheon. The inscription above the entrance says "Aux grands hommes la patrie reconnaissante"
(To the great men, the grateful homeland"). 

No doubt about it - I have to go back to the Pantheon!

Have you ever heard of a clandestine group called the Untergunther whose mission it is "to restore the neglected cultural heritage in Paris"? I hadn't either until Christine, prompted by last Thursday's post on the view from the dome of the Pantheon, sent me an email about a British television program called Greatest Cities of the World. The Paris episode featured a secretive group of do-gooders who snuck in to the Pantheon to repair an antique clock that had stopped working in the 1960s. Under the very noses of the security guards, they stealthily set up a secret workshop in a rarely used section of the monument's dome and devoted a year of their time to restoring the Wagner nineteenth century clock to working order.

Intrigue, history and a happy ending all rolled into one - I'll be sure to let you know as soon as I have the opportunity to see this monumental timepiece.

Tombs of Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas and Emile Zola. Tomb of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the crypt in the Pantheon. "The Great Rousseau", who is considered to be one of France's greatest authors and philosophers, was born in Geneva and lived for a time in Vevey. Throughout his life, he always identified himself as a citizen of Geneva.


Originally built as a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve, the Pantheon now serves as the final resting place for many of France's great men and a couple of its women, including Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Voltaire, Rousseau, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, Louis Braille, Jean Moulin and Jean Jaures. While walking through the crypt and overhearing the French parents explaining the significance of the building to their children, Stephane and I tried to think of a similar mausoleum honoring the great men of another country. We couldn't. Can you?

A replica of Foucault's famous pendulum.

Not only is the Pantheon a mausoleum for the great men of France, but it is also where French physicist Leon Foucault suspended a 62 pound (28kg) brass coated lead bob from the ceiling of the dome and conducted his experiments to create a simple device that demonstrates the rotation of the earth.

Many thanks to Christine for telling me about the Untergunther. Click HERE to read a very interesting article in The Guardian with more details about the clandestine group. And thanks to Tom for emailing a photo of the interior of the dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol. Your comments and emails make blogging much more interesting!

Place du Pantheon
75005 Paris

A tour group inside the Pantheon.

4 comments:

  1. We don't really have mausoleums in the States, not grand ones that I can think of. But I did think of Westwood Village in LA where all the stars are buried.

    http://www.seeing-stars.com/buried2/piercebros.shtml

    (I haven't learned how to rename the link yet.)

    I don't really understand how the Unterrunther worked without being noticed, but I'll check the link and maybe that will provide the answer.

    On a side note, will you visit David Lynch's new club Silencio?

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  2. Thanks for mentioning Westwood Village. I didn't know about it and the list of people who are buried there is quite impressive: Marilyn Monroe, Donna Reed, Dean Martin, Natalie Wood, Roy Orbison, Carroll O'Connor, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Don Knotts, Eddie Albert, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, George C. Scott, Burt Lancaster, Eve Arden, Carl Wilson, Eva Gabor and Truman Capote.

    Sorry that I didn't give all of the details about the Untergunther. I was torn between doing a post entirely about them or combining it with the Pantheon post. My plan is to take some photos of the clock and see what else I can find out before I do another post devoted to them. In the meantime, you can take a look at their website or at the Guardian article. Basically, they snuck all of the material into the Pantheon and set up a workshop there with an internet connection! The clockmaker who repaired the clock mentioned that picking the lock of the Pantheon was easy for a professional clockmaker. 4 of the members of the group were charged and then eventually cleared for breaking into the Pantheon. It's a fascinating story.

    I didn't know about Silencio but visited the website after reading your comment. It's looks like an interesting concept. Given the price of the membership fee, I don't think that I'll be going there anytime soon unless someone invites me to go as their guest. Now that I know about it, I'll start asking around and see if anyone else has been.

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  3. Re: Silencio, yes, that's the way to do it. There is a day guest membership, but I don't know the price for that.

    I did read the Guardian article, it was just sort of shocking, wasn't it? I just can't imagine that they could work so quietly as to be unnoticed, but maybe the clock is so off the beaten path that no one noticed. I'm looking forward to your account.

    I love their clandestine and nocturnal activities. Inspiring!

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  4. Me, too! It's the kind of stuff that movies are made of but this is real. What I would like to know is how someone becomes a member of the Untergunther. I guess that you would have to bring a certain skill set to the table.

    After going up to the dome last week, I'm not so surprised that they were able to keep their workshop a secret. There are places where the guards wouldn't have any reason to go unless they suspected something. Perhaps that's also why they only allow 50 people to go to the Dome at a time and why they escort them there and back.

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