The Pantheon and Its (Not Illegal) Clock Repairs

Paris was in a horrible mood this weekend. When you have to turn on the lights at 8:30 am because of the drab and grey skies outside, you know it’s going to be a bad day. But it’s 2013; the year just started, and I wasn’t going to let an overcast sky hold me hostage in pajamas all day, no sir. So I decided it was time for a Monument Revisit, and fucked off to the Pantheon.

I hadn’t been here in years – the last time I’d set foot here was in 2006. I was once again awed by its sheer size: 110m in length, a dome 85m high… well, there was a lot of neck-craning and walking.

We allowed ourselves to be hypnotised by the swinging motion of Foucault pendulum, which is an exact copy of the original one that used to hang in the Musée des Arts et Métiers (the cable of the original bob snapped, destroying both bob and floor of the museum in 2010). And then we headed down to the crypt to see the tombs of French superstars such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie and its very own architect Soufflot.

Personally, I think the modern-day rockstars to have ever graced the Pantheon were the members of the Untergunther, the restoration unit of an underground organisation named UX (Urban eXperiment), whose mission is to restore the cultural heritages the French government hasn’t gotten around to fixing. The members are the opposite of bandits: architects, historians, photographers, cartographers, masons, archivers and restorers make up this cultural guerilla team.

So it goes that in 2005, a team of eight allowed themselves to be locked in the Pantheon one evening, found a storeroom just below the Pantheon’s dome and set it up as their workshop. The mission? To repair the building’s antique clock, which remained broken since the 1960s. They fixed the room’s ratty electricity wiring, brought in bookshelves and chairs and a minibar (because, French), and spent 4000€ out of their own pockets for the restoration.  They slipped in and out of the monument for a year, posing as night watchmen, armed with impressive fake badges.

Under the all-knowing guidance of professional clockmaker and UX member Jean-Baptiste Viot, they finally completed their work. After a lot of debate and hesitation, they alerted the Pantheon officials about their masterpiece (only because the clock needed to be wound to start working again). You can imagine how the Pantheon officials felt. A mix of embarrassment and disbelief (the Untergunther members did say that getting into the Pantheon had been the easiest part of the operation) led the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and the government to sue the group, but they lost – not once, but twice – because in France, it isn’t illegal to repair clocks.

Currently listening to:
Shakey Graves
Roll the Bones

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