Can't make it to Athens? There's always Nashville

In 'Athens of South,' replica stands tall

Postcard: The Parthenon(s)

August 15, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,Sun Staff

ATHENS -- The Parthenon is imposing by day and stunning bathed in a sunset's light or illuminated at night by spotlights on a hill above this ancient city's downtown.

But you can't escape the fact that this old house (circa 432 B.C.) is showing its age. Bombs falling on the roof will do that to any Doric temple, especially when it's filled with an army's gunpowder stockpile (See Dumbest Ideas of 1687, Turkish-Venetian conflict).

Luckily for those who'd like to see it in its prime, there's another Parthenon. And you don't have to dodge heat-seeking Greek taxis to see it.

Nashville, Tenn., known as the "Athens of the South," has a full-size replica -- said to be the only one in the world. And these days it's filled with tourists taking a break from the Country Music Hall of Fame across town.

The Music City version was built as part of an international fair in 1897, just one year after the revival of the Olympic Games here. Like the original, it began to show signs of decay. But civic leaders have twice paid for extensive repairs, just as the Greek government is doing now on its Parthenon, a temple to the goddess Athena that, besides that 17th century explosion, has survived fire, conversion to a Christian church and an Islamic mosque, and the removal of many of its antiquities by the earl of Elgin.

Libby Lacock, the head of the Nashville Parthenon's speaker's bureau, says its temple is putting on more docents to handle crowds expected as a result of new interest piqued by the Olympics.

One thing Nashville visitors will see that Athens tourists won't is a gilded 42-foot statue of Athena, a replica that was sculpted in the 1980s. The Greek original, considered one of the seven wonders of the world, has disappeared.

While the Games will undoubtedly put the focus on the crumbling original for the next few weeks, Nashvillians think their version stands up pretty well in comparison. Lacock tells the story of one man who, while a soldier in Vietnam, took his R&R in Athens.

After visiting the original, the soldier commented: "These people need to learn to look after their buildings."

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