Ever been to Nashville? It’s a lot to see and do in a city that still feels like a small town. My brothers and I visited Music City for the first time two weeks ago. We toured the historic Ryman Auditorium – the “Mother Church of Country Music” and former home of the Grand Old Opry. We walked through the massive Gaylord Opryland Hotel. We drove down “Music Row”, the area of town with hundreds of record labels, publishing houses, and recording studios. We even sampled carefully-crafted moonshine (if you believe there is such a thing).
Yet, none of these sights prepared me for another of Nashville’s attractions that frankly deserves more press. Just southwest of the downtown area in Centennial Park, rising prominently on manicured lawns, you’ll find a full-scale fully-authentic reproduction of the Parthenon – that most famous of ancient structures on the Acropolis in Greece. If one can laugh and be in awe at the same time, that was me. A reproduction of a temple built in 438 BC? That’s the last thing I expected to see in Nashville.
Here’s what’s left of the original Parthenon (or “O-Parthenon” if you will) – which I spent significant time studying in architecture school. It is considered the most important surviving building of the classical culture of Greece, and the finest example of Greek architecture. It is a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the Greeks considered their patron. If you visit O-Parthenon today you won’t see much of the original structure, thanks to a mid-1600’s explosion of a munitions dump inside the building. Attempts to restore O-Parthenon have failed for lack of funding. Ironically, back in its heyday O-Parthenon was used as a treasury.
Nashville’s Parthenon (“N-Parthenon”) is the complete restoration, and it is a colossus. N-Parthenon is 200 ft. x 100 ft. with a surround of 70 columns. Inside its main space you’ll find a massive statue of Athena, rising 42 feet from the floor and gilt with more than eight pounds of gold leaf. A likeness of the goddess Nike standing in her right had is fully six feet tall. Pictures don’t do justice to the scale of N-Parthenon.
The origin of the Nashville Parthenon is almost as impressive as the building itself. Nashville’s Centennial Park was the site of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, a celebration of the state’s 100th year in the Union, including dozens of pavilions, restaurants, and large-scale carnival rides. Prominent within the Exposition was the Parthenon, which was surely a nod to the “Athens of the South”. Nashville earned that nickname in the 1850’s for the city’s establishment of several institutions of higher education.
The Exposition Parthenon was built of plaster, wood, and brick; not robust enough to last beyond the year of the celebration. But the cost of demolition and its popularity drove a movement to reconstruct the building in concrete – authentic to O-Parthenon to the last detail. N-Parthenon was completed in 1931. Athena herself was added in 1990. Appropriately, N-Parthenon contains a wonderful collection of photographs and descriptions from the Exposition. Makes our county fair look like small potatoes.
There have only been two other attempts to replicate O-Parthenon since its creation 2,500 years ago. The Walhalla Memorial in Germany (above, left) was built in 1826, but the completed structure is merely a nod to the architecture of O-Parthenon and much more about the distinguished people in German history. The National Monument of Scotland (above, right) was also built in 1826 – go figure – but abandoned three years later due to lack of funds. Take your pick; I say N-Parthenon beats “G”-Parthenon and “S”-Parthenon in a runaway.
Any visit to Nashville should include some aspect of the city’s rich history and allegiance to the music industry. But add the Parthenon to your agenda as well (especially if you think you’ll never make it to Greece). Oh, and per the sign, leave the wheels at home.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.