On last weeks Season Premiere of “Nashville”, there was an odd building that not many non- Nashvillians knew existed. Hayden Panetierre’s character performed in front of these huge Greek columns, believe it or not, this is actually located in Nashville. The Parthenon is a full scale replica of the one in Athens, although more intact. So why is there a replica of an ancient Greek structure sitting in the middle of Nashville?
Origins of the Parthenon
Nashville’s moniker, the “Athens of the South”, influenced the choice of the building as the centerpiece of the 1897 fair. A number of buildings at the Exposition were based on ancient originals, however the Parthenon was the only one that was an exact reproduction. It was also the only one that was preserved by the city, although the Knights of Pythias Pavilion building was purchased and moved to nearby Franklin, Tennessee, near our school.
Major Eugene Castner Lewis was the director of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition and it was at his suggestion that a reproduction of the Parthenon be built in Nashville to serve as the centerpiece of Tennessee’s Centennial Celebration in 1897.
Some of the most elaborate events that occurred at the Parthenon were the Spring Pageants of 1913 and 1914. These extravaganzas were theatrical productions on a massive scale. With casts of up to 500, the Pageants brought in audiencesfrom surroundings states and rail prices were lowered to encourage attendance. The entire city of Nashville reveled in the opportunity to celebrate the “Athens of the South.” The 1913 performance was entitled “The Fire Regained,” and featured a mythological storyline enhanced by theatrical spectacle popular in that era. The 1914 production, “The Mystery at Thanatos,” had a similarly mythological plot, but was shorter and better received. A copy of the script is on file at the Nashville Public Library. The most impressive thing about these Pageants was the incredible use of visual spectacle. Both shows featured impressive displays ranging from chariot races to huge dance numbers to thousands of live birds to set pieces that shot flames, all set against the backdrop of the majestic Nashville Parthenon.
As an art museum, the Parthenon’s permanent collection is a group of 63 paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists donated by James M. Cowan. Additional gallery spaces provide a venue for a variety of temporary shows and exhibits.
In the summertime, local theatre productions use the building as a backdrop for classic Greek plays such as Euripides’ Medea and Sophocles’ Antigone, performing (usually for free) on the steps of the Parthenon. Other performances, such as Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, have been done inside, at the foot of Athena’s statue.
The Parthenon got a full makeover in 2002 with a much needed cleaning and restoration to the exterior. The exterior lighting was upgraded to allow the columns of building to be illuminated with different colors than the facade, allowing a uniquely versatile display of effects for events.
Other than being featured in “Nashville” it was also used as a backdrop for the battle against the Hydra in the 2010 film Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (photo on the Right)
If you are ever in Nashville you have to check out Centennial Park and the Parthenon, with it’s enormous Athena Statue.
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