Have you ever wished you could go to Athens and see the Parthenon? If that is not in your plans for the near future, you can do the next best thing, visit the Athens of the South, Nashville and see their version of the Parthenon. Just in case you think this might not be as good as seeing the original, the Greek Government has used the Nashville Parthenon to help them to do some repairs and renovations to their original building. That says a lot about the quality and the authenticity of the Parthenon in Nashville.
The Parthenon is open to the public and houses a small art museum, it is however just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to visiting here. I was taken on a tour in December with the Museum Director Wesley Paine. This, of course, is an amazing way to see the Parthenon and it may not duplicate any other visitor's experience. Wesley really knows her museum. She was full of interesting information about the original building and about the times in which it was constructed.
In 1897 Nashville was the site of a World's Fair, it was called the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The Parthenon was constructed as a temporary building and was never intended to outlive the exposition. As you look around Centennial Park today, it is hard to imagine what it would have looked like when the exposition was in full swing. That is the first thing you get to see as you being your tour.
These days entrance to the building is on the east side at sidewalk level. After you pay your entrance fee you head through some hallways that contain great pictures of the Centennial Exposition and all the great buildings that were part of it. There were many temporary buildings constructed by other countries. For the people who visited this exposition, this was probably the only time they were ever exposed to foreign culture.
For example, at the Egyptian Pavilion, there were camel rides and in the Cuban Village, there were what was considered some very racy dancing girls. The Exposition was also very indicative of the times it happened in, there were efforts at making it an alcohol-free zone (which failed) and also there were areas where African Americans were not allowed to go.
After the fair, the other buildings were torn down. The Parthenon was saved but it was not designed for the long haul and in 1920 it was decided that something was going to have to be done to either preserve or tear down the building. Obviously, the choice was made to rebuild the building. It took 10 years from 1921-31 to complete the building. The depression was in full swing and there just was no money for the Athena statue at that time. It would be over 50 years before the statue was added.
An elevator takes people to the upper floor where the Athena statue is. This statue by Nashville artist Alan LeQuire is breathtaking. It stands 41 feet 10 inches tall and in covered with 24 karat gold. It took eight years to create. When you see it you will understand why. One interesting fact that we learned was that the spear that is leaning against Athena began its life as a flag pole at a McDonalds.
The upstairs level of the Parthenon is divided into two rooms, the one where Athena is which is called the Naos.
The second room called the Treasury Room is where visitors originally entered the building. The doors are worth a stop to look at. They weigh 7.5 tons and yet one girl in our group was easily able to close the door. Don't try this on your own, however. In this treasury room, there are smaller versions of the sculptures from the east and west pediment.
James Cowan donated the first 63 paintings that now make up the collection that is housed in the Parthenon. He gave them to the city of Nashville anonymously. On his death in 1930 the donor's name was revealed. These are now on display along with special exhibits. While it is not on the par with many larger museums, this is a fine small museum and certainly worth looking at.
The Parthenon is a very interesting piece of Nashville history and should be on any visitor's list of places to see.