The one thing that astonished me the most about Nashville was the full scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece. At first I thought it was just another Greek Revival style government or public building, but then I walked inside for a tour of an art gallery and discovered the 42′ tall statue of Athena. Truly this was the most surprising thing I discovered during my visit to the Music City and the best part of the story isn’t that the Parthenon exists but rather why.
In 1897 the state of Tennessee was celebrating its 100th birthday. Nashville decided to host a six-month party called the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition (although technically Tennessee was 101 years old in 1897). The site of Centennial Park was chosen as the grounds of the exposition and construction began on a myriad of structures to support the massive fair.
One of those structures was the replica of the Parthenon. Originally built of brick, plaster, and wood it was meant to be a temporary exhibit structure just like the rest of the buildings in the exposition. Twenty years later the Parthenon still stood in the park, although the temporary structure had become horribly dilapidated. The locals loved the icon so much the city decided to rebuild the Parthenon on the same foundation but this time use steel and concrete. It was completed in 1925.
Today the wonderfully weird building is an art museum, rental facility, and icon of the “Athens of the South”. Its part of the larger Centennial Park grounds that features walking paths around Lake Watauga, a few memorials including the Women Suffrage Monument, and large open fields perfect for a day with the family (or a furry friend).
The ground level of the Parthenon is the city’s art museum. The museum features rotating exhibits throughout the year that include various art forms. A pictorial history of the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition leads visitors through the history of the celebration and the original plaster building on this site.
The upper level is a cavernous space with a 42′ tall statue of Athena. On an average day the large room is used for demonstrations and youth activities, a place to capture a selfie with Athena, and a respite from the hustle and bustle just outside the thick walls. But this room is also used for special events and even weddings. Would you want to get married at the base the Greek goddess of warfare?
The Parthenon is a wonderful icon of Nashville, a popular sightseeing destination, and a great place to spend a lazy afternoon. The locals seem to love it since they hold photo shoots, special events, and evening gatherings around the massive building. At the very least it’s just one of those things you have to see when you visit Nashville, especially since the parking is free.