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Monday, 8 September 2014

Nashville's Parthenon

Photo: WritersClearinghouse News Service
[WritersClearinghouse News Service] Posted 9 September 2014
Yes, Nashville is a whole lot of country. And, yes, a whole lot of Greek.
Move over Greek frats, Greek coffee cups, and Greek yogurt, Nashville also has its own version of what is indisputably the most important and most widely recognized monument to embody that other Greek culture, the 5th century BCE Parthenon temple.
Nashville's Parthenon is a little-known, life-sized replica, and it's the kind of iconic symbol that puts the Western (that is, Western as in Classical Greek) in this otherwise country tunes mecca of 600,000.  Legendary chapeau-wearing songstress Minnie Pearl might still be more widely worshipped in that other 'temple' of culture here, the Grand Ol' Opry. But just minutes from downtown, near the Vanderbilt University campus, another godly figure, Athena, yes, even a more powerful yet than Minnie, is given tribute in her Parthenon temple.
Still surprisingly, Nashville's Athena, ancient Greece's goddess of wisdom, hardly gets her due. Just as recently as in last Sunday's New York Times' travel section, a '36 Hour in Nashville's' feature ignored what's surely the second-most important house of worship here. Just after, of course, Dolly's 'Partonon,' as the Opry's original venue at the Ryman Auditorium is referred to by some more classically-trained fans of the country-western megastar Dolly Parton.
This, too, in a nation that likes to 'import' Europe to her shores (Randolph Heart's castle in California is Exhibit A) to just recreating it (Venice and Paris venues in Las Vegas).

Nashville's Parthenon holds out an even earlier 20th-century claim to American cul-CHA, as a civic-driven precursor to private endeavors to romanticize early America's past (ie Rockefeller's Williamsburg in Virginia; Ford's Independence Hall in Michigan, and, hey, what about those ersatz Liberty Bells that dot the country?) 
The Nashville monument, a faithful, inch-by-inch facsimile of the sixty-feet-high original (that one is perched on the Acropolis hillside in Athens, of course) is among the country's most ambitious and faithful historical recreations. It also, unlike the late 19th-century mansions and follies in Newport, Rhode Island, tributes to poor taste and mamon, honors something substantive.
Actually, somethings: Tennessee's Centennial in1897; the nation's debt to Greek politics, civics, and architecture; and Nashville's status as the 'Athens of South,' the city's long-forgotten 19th-century moniker. ('Music City' came later. A lot later).
The temple was built in two stages. The first was a tear-down, erected for the 1897 Centennial, followed by the present building, constructed from 1921 to 1931, mirroring a similar ten-year span to build the original from 447 to 438 BCE.
Not everything is authentic. The Greeks used marble; the Tennesseans, brick, stone, and concrete aggregate. (Up close, it shows).
The Nashville Parthenon also houses a copy of the 42-feet high Athena statue, the original of which was also enclosed in the Parthenon until it was lost to time. The Elgin marbles, sculptures that were removed in the 19th century by Sir Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, and transported to the British Museum in London, are also displayed. In London, they're marble. In Nashville, plaster.
There's another difference: In Athens, the place is crawling with tourists, contributing to the Parthenon's decayed state as an ongoing fixer-upper. In Nashville, the remodeled, renovated version, unlike other sites downtown, is largely a tourist-free zone. Adult admission is $6.