Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hey, let's go to the Parthenon!

My home state, New York, has a lot of things. Statues, roller coasters, giant Life Savers rolls, headless horsemen, sleepy hollows, and all kinds of other wacky, bizarre crap that I know and love, but there's one thing that we don't have:

the parthenon

A Parthenon.

Tennessee wins!

OK, maybe not. New York, after all, never had a Scopes Monkey trial, but it's still pretty cool that just hours away from me there is a full scale replica of the Parthenon, leftover from Tennessee's 1897 Centennial Exposition, and a week or so ago I decided that Bryan, Kristin, and I needed to go visit it. Armed with an itinerary and a lunch recommendation from my friend Rod, who used to work at Vandy, we hopped in the car and drove to the Parthenon, just like the kids in "Percy Jackson", minus Uma Thurman's severed head.

The Parthenon at Nashville houses an art collection, a collection of plaster casts of the suriving marbles from the original Parthenon:


(and wow, Poseidon was totally ripped! See?)

poseidon's torso

and the real showpiece, a gilded statue of Athena that is the largest indoor statue in the western hemisphere:

Athena and I

That's me in front of it, roughly the same size as Nike, the statue in Athena's hand.

Before you can see the statue of Athena, you have to go through the Parthenon gift shop, which sells many inferior likenesses of varying sizes:

tiny athenas

The faces on those look cheap and tacky, while the real thing looks surprisingly regal:

closeup on Athena's face

I could have walked around the naos staring at that thing for hours. Some of it is just the hugeness of it, as anything done on that scale and then covered in gold leaf tends to draw the eye, but some of it is also the intricacy and the attention to detail. It's like twenty statues piled on top of one big one, as if Athena were a giant covered with Lilliputians. The shield, for example, is covered with figures from Greek myth:

Athena's shield (1)

Athena's shield (2)

Not only that, but another set of figures representing other myths and characters is painted on the inside:

shield interior


The statue of Nike is a small work of art on its own:


and even Athena's sandals,

Athena's platform sandals

costume, and crown:

Athena's profile

are covered with intricate, smaller details. The room itself, the naos, is equally impressive, flanked at the far end by huge bronze doors:

Athena, facing the cella doors

There is a matching set of doors in the treasury room behind the naos, and both sets are decorated with heads and medallions:

bronze lion head

Kristin stood by one to give a sense of scale:

lion's head and Kristin

and then demonstrated that even though the doors weigh about seven tons each, they are hung well enough on bearings and pivots that you can move them with a gentle push from one hand:

Kristin and cella door

The treasury room also holds a mini-museum to the construction of the Nashville Parthenon, with molds, sketches, and plaster models of the exterior pediment sculptures:

working model (1)

After you stare at them and then go back and stare at Athena again for a while, you can go outside and stare at the real, concrete ones:

east pediment

Since I'm a big nerd, it was a pretty fascinating experience, but it can be a little jarring to be immersed in the Parthenon for an hour and then to go outside and glimpse Nashville through the columns:

columns and nashville

The Parthenon is the only building from the exposition still surviving on the Centennial Park site, although it's not the original, which was built of brick, plaster, and wood. There are some other relics scattered around the park grounds, though, like the pond, some columns and statues, and this:

"Tennessee" prow

That's a concrete ship's bow, representing the dreadnought Tennessee. The bronze on the front:


is from the original battleship. The concrete is crumbling, which can be expected from something meant to be temporary that is over a hundred years old, and only extends a few feet past the bronze sculpture before coming to a flat stop. There is a staircase in the middle for people to climb up pretend they are on the ship, so of course we did:

me on the prow

bryan on the prow

and, yes, Bryan's king of the world, because "Titanic" has seeped so far into our collective consciousness that it's now a default gesture whenever anyone gets near the front of a ship.

After we ran out of things to see in the park we drove around the back of the Vandy campus to get to Jackson's Bar and Bistro, which was pretty busy since we wandered in at brunchtime:

kitchen rush

We split a beer cheese appetizer:

beer cheese

and I had a delicious grilled pimento cheese BLT:

pimento blt

minus the T, since I dislike tomatoes. After lunch we walked around the neighborhood a little, went to an interesting bookstore across the street, and then decided to head for the Nashville City Cemetery, since we couldn't think of anything else to do and none of us were sure of how to get to Music Row. I really need to plan a better itinerary next time, I think.

The cemetery contained a surprising number of above the ground tombs (surprising to me, anyway, since I think of those as something that's needed more in swampier climates), including this oddly coffin-shaped one:

casket shaped tomb

A lot of the statues are very eroded or broken:

weathered prayer

eroded couple

bare limbs

but some of the stones and urns are still in very good shape:

urn and willows

key and something

I mean, it's pretty clear what's going on here, even with a little erosion:

angel of death

This stone was probably the oddest one we saw:

boulder headstone

I figure a boulder with a lamp on top has to have a story behind it, but this is all I've been able to find. The lack of information made for a frustrating end to a pretty fun day.


stanford said...

Dude, I’m speechless. How is it that I have never heard of this. I saw the Parthenon stuff on your Facebook feed and totally thought you were having a debate about Greek and Roman landmarks…not something in Tennessee. This is epic.

Plus, we were just telling someone about how the cemeteries out east are WAY more interesting than those out west. Cool trip.

Skald said...

I love the pictures and that Athena statue is just breath-taking, I bet it was even more so in person. Someday I'll just have to come visit and you can show me remarkable Tennessee.

Joel said...

Tennessee is a land of wonder.

Jeannie said...

I am jealous I missed out on this trip with y'all. Did you say hi to Bud the snake for me?

Rod said...

If I start an internet petition, do you think we'll be able to get Joel to go as "the Tennessee Parthenon Athena" for Halloween. We've got MONTHS to plan this.