Heralded as Music City, U.S.A., and the country-music capital of the world, Tennessee's fast-growing capital city also shines as a leading centre of higher education, appropriately known as the Athens of the South. Nashville has prospered from both labels, emerging as one of the South's most vibrant cities in the process. The Gaylord Entertainment Centre (formerly Nashville Arena), a 20,000-seat facility spanning three blocks at 5th and Broadway, opened in 1996. Connected to the city's convention centre by a tunnel, the Arena hosted the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in 1997. A successful drive to land both a National Football League and a National Hockey League franchise, coupled with a population gain that has pushed Nashville ahead of Memphis, has put Nashville into the major leagues of American cities.
Nashville's Grand Ole Opry radio programme, which began as station WSM's Barn Dance in 1925 and thrived throughout the Great Depression right into today's MTV years, established the town as a music centre. The Opry now performs in a sleek $15 million Opry House. An infusion of new talent is attracting another generation of fans. The Opry is still as gleeful and down-home informal as it was when ticket holders used to jam into the old Ryman Auditorium.
Bolstering Nashville's reputation as a music town are dozens of clubs, performance stages (including the revitalized Ryman), and television tapings open to the public, as well as memorials to many country-music stars. The District, the downtown area along 2nd Avenue and historic Broadway, has emerged as a destination for tourists and locals alike, with restaurants, speciality shopping, and entertainment options. And, of course, legendary Music Row continues to beckon aspiring singers, musicians, and songwriters with stars in their eyes and lyrics tucked in their back pockets.
Much of Nashville's role as a cultural leader, enhanced by the presence of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, is derived from the presence of 16 colleges and universities, two medical schools, two law schools, and six graduate business schools. Several, including Vanderbilt University, have national or international reputations, and many have private art galleries. As ancient Athens was the "School of Hellas," so Nashville, where a full-size replica of the Parthenon graces Centennial Park, fills this role in the contemporary South. The historic sites throughout the city—such as the Hermitage, Belle Meade Plantation, and Travellers' Rest—add another dimension.