NASHVILLE, TN – An amazing tribute to Hellenism, Nashville’s Centennial Park Parthenon was a fitting location of choice for a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Hellenic Revolution, one attended by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, and Ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou of the Hellenic Republic, among others.
Co-hosted by Nashville Parks and Recreation Board Member George Anderson and Nashville Mayor John Cooper, in cooperation with the Archdiocesan Bicentennial National Coordinating Committee, the in-person event was attended by over 100 individuals and live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook.
Opening the ceremony was the Hellenic national anthem, sung by the orchestra director of the Metro Nashville Public Schools, Anna Maria Miller, and the United States national anthem, sung by recording artist and songwriter Damien Horne, who performed with his guitar.
“As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Greek Independence, I cannot think of a better place in America than here at the Parthenon,” Cooper said standing underneath the Nashville Parthenon’s towering columns. “Nashville fully appreciates the Hellenic tradition … and how irreplaceable and central that tradition is to all Western civilization.”
Originally built out of wood in 1897 as a temporary structure for the Centennial Exhibition of Tennessee, today’s Nashville Parthenon is the only full scale replica of the Athens Parthenon.
By the end of the 19th century, Cooper explained, “Nashville boasted the largest scholastic population of any city in the country.” By this time, he said, “Nashville had succeeded in becoming the ‘Athens of the South’, and then came time for the Parthenon to commemorate that feat.” Nashville’s nickname indeed influenced the centerpiece building of the 1897 Exposition.
“The Nashville Parthenon was built to pay homage to Hellenism, classicism, and to the city’s cultural and core values,” Anderson said. As the citizens of Nashville took a liking to the beauty and significance of the structure, it was rebuilt on the same foundations in concrete form in the 1920s.
The structure took a decade of research to build, and two lead Nashville architects were dedicated to the details, including accurately replicating the iron oxide stains of the Athens Parthenon. “They dredged a brownish-yellow gravel from the Potomac River and used that for the stain,” Cooper said. To replicate the marble structures, “they went to the British Museum in London and used casts of the surviving fragments from Athens, and yes … those should not be in London, they should be in Athens,” he said.
Furthermore, the architects relied on sketches made by a French artist in 1674, just 13 years before the Athens Parthenon was severely damaged during the bombardment of the Acropolis by Venetians fighting Turks. Fifty-seven years after its completion, it became the home of a 41-foot tall 24-carat gold-gilded statue of Athena. The building also houses 63 paintings by 19th and 20th century artists in its lower level.
“We appreciate the noble heritage that Greece has brought to our city … our love of logic, of language, and liberal arts,” Cooper said, then handing over the floor to Ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou of the Hellenic Republic, who spoke about the Greek fight for freedom.
“The Greeks took up after 400 years of Ottoman rule … they were poor, they were destitute, they were desperate, but they had faith and were determined to live free or die,” Papadopoulou said. “The Greek diaspora, then, as always, was at the forefront of this struggle … soon the philhellenic movement was strong and thriving, particularly in the United States,” she said, referencing the correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Adamantios Koraes, and the inspiration the Greeks took from the Americans who had revolted a few years prior.
“Two hundred years later, the principles of the Greek revolution are still valid and pertinent. Freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. They are the shared values of Greece and the United States, and form the basis of the strong and unbreakable partnership between our two nations,” Papadopoulou said. “From the oldest democracy of the world, to the biggest and most powerful one … from Athens, the birthplace of democracy, to the Athens of the South … thank you for honoring my country.”
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, who visited Nashville for the first time for this special occasion, began his speech with “God loves Greece, and God loves Greek people, as he loves Tennessee and Nashville, because God granted us today this beautiful Greek sky and sunshine, apart from the chilly wind.”
Standing at the only full scale replica of the Parthenon in the world brought His Eminence a sense of pride, he said. “Such an appreciation of Greece is deeply moving and inspiring. Nashville has been called the ‘Athens of the South,’ and has certainly earned this designation.”