Called “The Athens of the South”, Nashville boasts many colleges and universities, including Vanderbilt University and Fisk University. Athens, Greece has a Parthenon on the acropolis. The Athens of the South has its Parthenon in Centennial Park, the site of the 1897 Exposition. This Parthenon is an exact replica of the one in Greece. It maintains all of the friezes encircling the building. The architect used drawings from the British Museum to produce the desired effect. The building, built from plaster, was so impressive that the citizens wanted to keep it after the fair closed. Nature had taken its toll on the plaster and a permanent building of concrete was finished in 1931, refurbished, and reopened in 2003.
Approaching the Parthenon from the East, the sheer symmetry of the building impresses the visitor; not a single straight line, however, in the entire structure. The pediment above the seventy-one two ton doors depicts the birth of Athena. Over the West doors the pediment depicts the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the control of Attica. Under the eaves around the building, a series of friezes depict the gods and heroes. Inside the naos, the primary chamber, a statue of Pallas Athena, the patroness of Athens, dominates. Rising forty-two feet her gold leafed covered robes radiate her beauty and the wealth of Greece. Along the walls, rest replicas of fragments from the pediments “rescued” by Lord Elgin in 1804, after the Turks exploded the original Parthenon. Finally, in the treasury behind the naos scaled down versions of the exterior pediments depict descriptions of the various gods and goddesses.
A short five-minute drive takes the visitor downtown to the State Capital Building. Free parking exists a few blocks away at the farmers market. Over two hundred steps ascend the hill to the building. Statues of Andrew Jackson and Sergeant Alvin York dominate the grounds, where President James Polk and his wife Sarah are interred. The capital building, completed in 1849, houses the legislative and executive branches of government. On the self-guided tour you can actually see the governor working in his office. The Capital building became a heated place during the Civil War. Shots from pistols rang out during some of the arguments. William Strickland, the architect, asked to be buried behind the cornerstone of the building. If the visitor feels lucky, William might make his presence known, as he has often done.
A short distance East of town sits The Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson. A very controversial man himself, the building reflects the stature of Old Hickory: large doorways and high stairwells. He received his fame by winning the Battle of New Orleans after the War of 1812 was over. He also defied the Supreme Court and started the relocation of the Native Americans (he was tired of tying to kill them all and so put them out of the way-The Trail of Tears). He also dumped his first wife and married Rachel who was devoted to him. To many Andrew Jackson is a great man. I rank him with George Armstrong Custer. Not a compliment.
The visitor will also find on the grounds the home of Uncle Albert Jackson, former slave and caretaker of the estate into the 20th century. Archeological digs in the slave quarters about one half mile into the fields reveal life of the slave community in Antebellum Tennessee.
A trip to Music City would not be complete with giving homage to The Grand Ole Opry, in Opryland. A visitor will notice all of the tour buses going to and from Nashville. They do not see the Capital Building, the Parthenon, and The Hermitage; only The Grand Ole Opry. When we were there we saw over fifty buses parked in the lot with many more filled with white haired men and women arriving. The Grand Ole Opry holds performances every Friday and Saturday evening. Everything is within walking distance from the hotel: theaters, Opry Mills (a shopping center), etc.
When you plan your trip to The Athens of the South, do not forget that the city has much more than Country Music.