January 6, 2011

The Parthenon

Nashville Parthenon

It was such a nice day today, I decided to go to Centennial Park on my lunch hour just to take some pictures. Not many people know this, but Nashville is home to the only full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon in the world. A dubious honor perhaps, but an interesting story:

Long before it became known as “Music City,” Nashville prided itself as “The Athens of The South,” a nickname it acquired in the 1850s from its numerous institutions of higher education and as the first southern city to establish a public school system. On the occasion of Tennessee’s hundredth anniversary of statehood, an exact reconstruction of the Parthenon was the centerpiece of the Grand Exposition held in Nashville in 1896. Hastily built out of temporary materials, the structure was not meant to last past the six-month Exposition. However, when it came time to demolish the building, the townspeople revolted and it remained in situ for twenty-three years. Finally, in 1920, the City of Nashville decided to build a permanent Parthenon, a project that took eleven years to complete. Today, it houses a stunning, 41-foot tall, gold leafed statue of Athena by Nashville artist Alan LeQuire as well as small museum of Nashville history.

The people of Nashville do love their Parthenon—a major renovation of the structure was recently completed and it really looks better than ever. Sure, it’s a little tacky. But it’s also kind of awe-inspiring up close—a remarkable simulacra of ancient grandeur. And the beautifully manicured Centennial Park is not just a pretty public space: it’s also host to various art fairs and other events throughout the year. For me, the Parthenon is just another one of those quirky things about Nashville that make it a neat place to live.


Molly said...

Beautiful picture - and educational post. I never knew any of Nashville's history!

MilesOfTrane said...

The Parthenon is really very cool.

Sam said...

We went there a few years back, and I've got some nice pictures of us hanging around the arches.

Rodger Coleman said...

@Molly: Thank you so much! Nashville's history is actually quite interesting, dating back to colonial times. It was an early outpost of the "frontier" and something of a resort destination in the 18th Century.

@MilesOfTrane: You are correct, it is very cool and I do not mean to denigrate the remarkably progressive intentions that resulted in this remarkable public monument to our classical heritage. It is still rather odd, particularly in a modern era that has blithely demolished its architectural heritage. The historical Governor's Mansion was located down the road, but sold off in 1979 to build a Popeye's Chicken shack which, itself, is now gone. Nashville's relationship with its architectural heritage is fraught, to say the least. That its citizens rallied around its ersatz Parthenon seems like an anachronism today. But yes, it IS very cool.

@Sam: let's see 'em!