Memphis Travel Guide
Like its closest cousin, Nashville, Memphis’ personality is inextricably linked with the music it is associated with, subsequently most of the top attractions have a Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll music slant to them – Beale Street, Handy Park, Sun Studios, Memphis Music Hall of Fame and of course Graceland. But don’t be fooled, Tennessee’s largest city also has much of historical and artistic value with several excellent museums, theatres and remarkable examples of traditional architecture.
The heart and soul of the City is undoubtedly Beale Street, the entertainment centre and arguably the most historic street in the entire State. One of the most impressive buildings is the wonderfully restored Orpheum Theatre (1927/8) which now presents a programme of concerts, plays and shows. Another landmark is the Hunt Phelan House. Formerly General Grants headquarters this 19th century Greek style mansion is considered to be one of the grandest buildings in Memphis. Strange as it may seem even Beale Street police Station is a tourist attraction, not only does it act as a centre for law enforcement it is also a 24hour museum with exhibits including weapons and historic newspaper articles covering infamous crimes, including the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
The majority of visitors to Memphis come on a pilgrimage, a chance to pay homage to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis. Top of the list is a trip to Graceland home and final resting place to the man who changed the sound of popular music forever. It isn’t exactly cheap ($18.50) for the full tour, nor is it particularly insightful, but you can actually pick which of the attractions you want to see and pay individually for each. Attractions include the mansion a car museum, his two private planes – the Lisa Marie and Hot Dog II, a burger joint, restaurant and souvenir shop selling everything from swivel hip Elvis Dolls to Elvis socks.
When you tire of Rock ‘n’ Roll it is well worth spending some time exploring Memphis’ museums. Top of the list is Brooks Museum of Art, which was founded in 1916 and is the oldest and largest fine art gallery in Tennessee. The collection includes Italian Renaissance, Baroque paintings and sculptures, English portraits as well as an excellent selection of American paintings, sculptures and decorative arts. The Dixon Gallery is housed in a building designed by Houston architect John Straub in 1940 in Georgian Revival style. The art collection includes French and American Impressionists and decorative arts with works by Jean-Louis Forain, Cezanne, Chagall and Renoir. Chucalissa Archaeology Museum is a reconstruction of a 15th century Native American Village on an 187acre tract of land just south of the City; it is part of an actual archaeological site.
Memphis is to American music what Hollywood is to American Cinema. It is a City steeped in nostalgia where the ghosts of Bluesmen and Rockers still hang-out. It is a place where history was made. If you need any more convincing, visit WC Handy’s house and see where the Grandfather of the Blues invented modern music. Eat the very best barbecued ribs you’ve ever tasted in scores of steamy restaurants then kick back with an ice cold beer and listen to some rootsy tunes in suitably seedy or gaudy surroundings. Check out a basketball game at the world famous 32storey Pyramid Arena or laugh at the legendary fountain ducks in the elegant Peabody Hotel lobby. There is always plenty to do and as an insight into the realities of a gritty and exciting period of American history which today seems in danger of being glossed over and romanticised forever it is without rival. It may not have the status any more but it still has its soul!
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