Although the history of a city is typically defined as a chronological record of significant events that explains how it came to be, the intricacies in between that timeline run deeper, encompassing geography, culture, education, music, art, industry, politics, cuisine and so much more.
And in Nashville, all of this is intertwined into a vibrant, colorful, multifaceted landscape that has earned it nods from numerous travel and other publications as a top tourist destination.
A Rose by Any Other Name…
Like many cities, Nashville, about a 3-hour drive from both Memphis and Louisville (KY), 4 hours from Atlanta, 4-1/2 hours from Indianapolis, and 5 hours from St. Louis, has earned many monikers over the years.
The first was “The Athens of the South,” a nod given to it within a few decades after its founding as Fort Nashborough in 1779 for its vast number of educational institutions, which earned it a reputation as a sort of upper crust, sister city to Athens, Greece exuding sophistication, wealth and culture at every turn.
Today, as the capital of Tennessee, it is equally known as Music City, a nickname that most people believe is because it is also the country music capital of the world. And although true, historical accounts also show that in the 1800s Queen Elizabeth, who was being entertained by the now world renown, African American Fisk Jubilee Singers from the city’s Fisk University, remarked that the group was so good they must have come from, yes, “Music City.”
Well, the name has stuck and is an apt representation of this southern gem whose music roots infuse every area of the landscape here.
One of the best ways to explore and learn about the history of Nashville is to embark upon the Music City Trolley Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour. The one-hour tour will help you not only get the lay of the land, but also give you insights into the many sites and attractions along the way you might like to visit. And because the tour pass is good for two-days, you have plenty of time to take in as little or as much as you want, at your own pace.
The 17 stops along the way include the historic Riverfront Train Station, Bridgestone Arena Visitors Center, Music Row, The Johnny Cash Museum, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 5th Avenue of the Arts, Ryman Auditorium, Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, The Gulch District and The Nashville Farmers Market, just to name a few.
It is highly recommend to purchase a Music City Total Access Attraction Pass, a great value at only $75, which not only gives you a discount on the Trolley Tour, but also free entrance to any four attractions of your choosing (there are 22 from which to choose), plus free admittance to The Parthenon and Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
To fully grasp the depth of the music history in Nashville, country music, and all genres of music, be sure to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
This flagship Nashville attraction is an absolutely amazing collection of exhibits about the influential performers, songwriters, sound technicians, social history, photographs, artifacts, radio and television clips, sound recordings, and a great deal more than not only made Nashville music what it is today, but had profound influences across the country and around the world. They also present a handful of special exhibits that delve further into the lives and music of many aspects and music personalities.
Two of the Hall’s historical properties include Historic RCA Studio B, whose famous hitmakers have included Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Eddy Arnold, and Willie Nelson, as well as Hatch Show Print, the letterpress poster shop which produced some of the most iconic posters for many of the world’s most famous entertainers.
Another of the most popular attractions in town is the Ryman Auditorium, a National Historic Landmark and home of the Grand Ole Opry from its inception until 1974.
In the Beginning
The Tennessee State Capitol is a must for any history buff, where you can wander the many public galleries and pop your head into the Senate and House chambers on your own, or via a guided tour.
From its position atop one of the highest points in the city you will get a spectacular view of Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park just down the hill. This 19-acre park is chock full of fascinating attributes relative to the history of the state, including an amazing 100-year state-timeline, 200-foot granite state map, a Walkway of Counties with regional, native plant species, a 95-Bell Carillon, 2,000-seat amphitheater, World War II Memorial, and other attractions.
More in-depth exploration of the state’s history can be found at the Tennessee State Museum featuring permanent, changing and temporary exhibits encompassing African American soldiers in the Civil War, 18th century artifacts, presidential history, Victorian paintings, and, across the street in the entity’s Military Museum, artifacts relative to historic overseas conflicts over the decades.
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