The Parthenon at Athens, Greece and at Nashville, Tennessee
The Parthenon at Athens, Greece
at Nashville, Tennessee
The Parthenon of Pericles
Reproduction in America
Benjamin Franklin Wilson, III
Director of the Parthenon
THE PARTHENON AT ATHENS, GREECE
AT NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
(Excerpts from THE PARTHENON OF PERICLES AND
ITS REPRODUCTION IN AMERICA)
By Benjamin Franklin Wilson III
THE MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF PARK COMMISSIONERS
- R. M. Dudley
- M. T. Bryan
- Lee J. Loventhal
- W. R. Cole
- R. T. Creighton
- Chas. M. McCabe
- Percy Warner
- Rogers Caldwell
- J. P. W. Brown
- Edwin Warner
- C. A. Craig
- Jas. G. Stahlman
- Vernon Tupper
- Bascom F. Jones
Whose intelligent and untiring interest made possible thereproduction of the Parthenon at Nashville; in memoryof those who are gone, and in appreciation of thosewho are living, this booklet is gratefully dedicated
The Parthenon of Pericles, while not thought to beone of the wonders of the world, nevertheless has alwaysbeen regarded as one of the most wondrously beautifuland inspiring of the world’s buildings. It embracesthe best effort of the mind, the heart, and thehand of man. In it are bound up the religion, the history,and the art of Greece.
It has been well said that art is organized emotion,while science is organized knowledge. The field of emotionfound its first great development among the Greeksand in the time of Pericles reached its zenith. Assuredlythe Greeks have never been excelled in the beauty oftheir architecture or sculptural art.
The influence of religion was dominant in the lifeand thought that produced such outstanding men inthis period of world history as Phidias and Sophocles,Ictinos and Pericles. Every function of the mind, everyactivity of the hand, was closely associated with somegod or goddess, and to this inspirational incentive theworld is greatly indebted for the Parthenon. Themythological stories of the Parthenon largely cover themythology of Greece. Twenty-eight of the major deitiesand numerous minor deities and personifications adornits pediments.
At the time of its destruction in the seventeenth century,a little more than two thousand years after itscompletion, the Parthenon was almost in as good conditionas it was at its beginning. The changes made by theChristians in the fifth century and by the Turks in thefifteenth century had impaired it but little, all of whichis eloquent testimony to the thoroughness with whichthe task was accomplished. The co-ordination of mind,hand, and heart of the Greeks of that age has never beenexcelled by men of any time and found its culminationin the Parthenon.
The Ruins of the Parthenon at Athens in 1929
The Parthenon at Athens
The Parthenon was built on the Acropolis, ahill two hundred feet above the streets ofAthens, in the year 438 B.C. Not yet had theblight of decay laid its hand upon an outstandingcivilization and Athens was at the zenith ofher glory and power. The nations she had conqueredcontributed to her wealth and her slavesfurnished the labor for her every great undertaking.It is no wonder that at this timeshe should turn her heart toward her belovedAthena and honor her with a shrine. AthenaParthenos was her name, hence the word Parthenon.She was the wisest and most beautiful ofthe Grecian deities and the Parthenon was hertemple.
It is thought that the earliest Greeks worshipedtheir goddess with crude altars of uncutstone and unhewn wood. Gradually, as theGreeks became more intelligent, they beganbuilding temples, each lovelier than the one beforeand all on the same foundation, as attestedby excavations at Athens. It is not known justhow many temples there were in this series, butit is known that the last one was destroyed bythe Persian Xerxes in the year 480 B.C. Thencame the Parthenon, begun in 447 and dedicatedto the goddess Athena in 438 B.C. Here for athousand years the Greeks worshiped their goddess,and it was during this period that Greeceproduced the greatest of her philosophers, warriors,artists, and writers.
The Parthenon was built under the supervisionof Phidias, the greatest artist of form theworld has ever known. He was a close friendof Pericles, archon of Athens, who, appreciatingPhidias’ great executive ability as well as hisgenius, commissioned him to build the temple.He had built a number of other temples forPericles, notably the temple of Zeus at Olympia,but the Parthenon was the most ambitious of allhis undertakings, as indeed it was the most ambitiousof all the Greek temples.
The Greeks were somewhat slow in embracingChristianity but by 426 A.D. they had become aChristian nation. In the meantime Greece hadfallen under the dominion of the Roman Empireand the Emperor Theodosius II changedthe Parthenon into a Christian church. For alittle more than a thousand years the Greeksworshiped Jehovah in the Parthenon. Afterthe conquest by the Turks in 1458 the Parthenonwas changed into a Mohammedan mosque.
Except for the minor changes to the interiorin the fifth century by the Christians and thoseto the exterior in the fifteenth century by theTurks, the Parthenon was almost in as goodcondition at the time of its destruction in 1687as it was in the beginning. In that year theTurks were driven out of Athens by the Venetians,representing a Christian nation. In thiswar the Turks temporarily stored gunpowder inthe Parthenon for safekeeping, thinking theGreek gods which adorned its pediments wouldgive them good luck. However, a Venetianshot, not so respectful of the gods of the Greeks,struck the Parthenon and rendered it the interestingruin that, for the most part, remainstoday.
As a result of the explosion the entire interiorwas destroyed. The columns, the architrave,the ceiling, the roof, nothing remained exceptthe floor and fragments of the walls. Fortunatelythe explosive agent was gunpowder,whose power acts upward and outward only;consequently, the floor was not materially injuredand the markings on the floor disclose theorder of architecture, location, and diameter ofthe columns.
The exterior did not suffer as much from theforce of the explosion as did the interior. Ofthe fifty-eight columns on the outside, forty-fourwere left standing. Eight on the northeastcorner and six on the south side were entirelyblown away. A few of the end columns weredamaged slightly. Almost all of the pedimentalsculptures were blown off and greatly injured.Only two fragmentary groups of the pedimentalsculptures are left on the old ruin.
In 1929 the Greek Government, with the assistanceof American capital, began a restorationof the Parthenon. It is to be hoped that theGreeks will not allow anything to prevent thecompletion of this work.
The Parthenon at Nashville at Night
The Parthenon at Nashville
In 1896 the State of Tennessee attained itsfull century statehood. To celebrate that importantevent in the life of the State the TennesseeCentennial Exposition was held in Nashvillethe following year. Nashville had longbeen known as the “Athens of the South” becauseof its many schools and colleges and accompanyingculture, and it is not surprising thatthe director general of the exposition, a mannoted for his culture and love of art, conceivedthe idea of having as the gallery of fine arts forthe exposition a reproduction of the Parthenonat Athens.
In the successful prosecution of the workthere was no time for research and study. Relyingon existing information, a very creditablebuilding was erected of laths and plaster in thefew months available.
The “Gallery of Fine Arts” attracted so muchfavorable attention during the exposition that atits close the people of Nashville, having becomegreatly attached to it, insisted that it should notbe torn down when the exposition buildingswere destroyed. The Board of Park Commissionersof the City of Nashville obtained approximatelyone hundred and fifty acres of landsurrounding the building and laid out what isnow beautiful Centennial Park. Built to last ayear, the much loved building stood for nearlytwenty-four years until, in spite of every effortmade for its preservation, it became a greaterruin than its prototype in Athens.
The Board of Park Commissioners had longhad as a cherished objective the reproduction ofthe Parthenon in permanent materials. Thiswas an ambitious undertaking for a city muchlarger than Nashville, and it was not until 1920that the old building was torn down and on itssite the present reproduction of the Parthenonat Athens was begun. Competent architects,artists, and archaeologists were employed, whodevoted the best efforts of their careers to thework. No effort was too great, no money wasspared, to make the Parthenon as near as was4humanly possible a reproduction of the originalas it existed as the temple of Athena in the fifthcentury, B.C.
The chief difference between the original andthe reproduction lies in the materials of whichthey were made. The Parthenon at Athens wasbuilt of Pentelic marble quarried near by, whilethat at Nashville is of reinforced concrete finishedby a patented process which, under theinfluence of electric lights, very closely resemblesmarble. The Pentelic marble of the originalhad a small content of iron, which became oxidizedand the color of the ruin at Athens isnow a brownish yellow from the iron oxidestain.
By the use of concrete in the building atNashville three important advantages were obtained:durability, economy, and the privilegeof seeing the Parthenon in two colors. Concreteis the most durable of all building materialsand the most economical. By a carefulselection of materials, the color of the Parthenonat Nashville in daylight is brownish yellow, thesame as the ruin at Athens. This effect wasobtained by using, as the aggregate of the concrete,a brownish yellow gravel from the bottomof the Potomac River in Virginia.
The Parthenon at Nashville is floodlighted foran hour and a half each night and is indeed abeautiful sight, one of the most beautiful in theworld; the lighting plan having been carefullydesigned by the Engineering Staff of the GeneralElectric Company. A writer in one of the leadingnewspapers in America said, “If I am everso fortunate as to reach the Pearly Gates of theNew Jerusalem, I shall expect to find nothingmore radiantly beautiful than the Parthenon atNashville at night.”
It is regretted that there was no acropolis onwhich to locate the reproduction in Nashville.However, this defect in the setting was to someextent atoned for by building it adjacent to asmall lake and surrounding it with a beautifulpark.
The Parthenon at Athens had no basement,but in the reproduction a basement was addedto house a museum of fine arts. Thus the spiritof the Parthenon, always a temple of some god,is not violated by the hanging of pictures on itswalls.
Begun in 1920, because of the research necessaryto make it a reproduction of the original asit was in the beginning, the Parthenon at Nashvillerequired eleven years for completion. Theexterior was finished in 1925, and the Parthenonwas thrown open to the public on May 20, 1931,six years having been necessary to complete theinterior.
Showing a Section of East Portico with Closed Doors
Shadows on the Parthenon at Nashville showing the “Greek Urn” in End ofExterior Corridor
Description of the Parthenon
The Parthenon of Pericles has been shown ina new light as a result of the eleven years ofstudy and research made in connection with thereproduction at Nashville. Some of the olderconceptions were based on assumptions ratherthan facts derived from research. For the firsttime the modern Greek who visits Nashvillesees the Parthenon as his ancestors saw and admiredit at Athens.
The Parthenon is sixty-five feet high with itssuperstructure resting on the base or stylobateof the temple, consisting of three steps. Thelargest dimensions are furnished by the lowestof these steps, which is two hundred and thirty-eightfeet long by one hundred and eleven feetwide. The top step, on which the peristylerests, is two hundred and twenty-eight feet longby one hundred and one feet wide.
One of the most interesting peculiarities, or itmight be said subtleties, employed by the Greeksin building the Parthenon is that no two majorlines are exactly parallel nor are they exactlyequal in length.
The most striking feature of the Parthenonwhen viewed from any exterior approach is theencircling row of great Doric columns formingthe peristyle. There are forty-six of thesecolumns, seventeen on each side, six on each end(not counting the corner columns twice), andsix each on the