Athens in Nashville: The Parthenon

A young girl no older than twelve was looking up and said to her friend, “I see Poseidon, but where’s Hermes?” The precocious youngster was admiring a pediment of The Parthenon here in Nashville.

Unknown to many, it is an exact replica of the famous ancient Greek structure of Athens as it would have originally appeared, before the ravages of time, war and pollution. The Nashville Parthenon was first built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centenniel Exposition, selected as the centerpiece over many other ideas in keeping with Nashville’s moniker as the “Athens of the South.” I plead ignorance, because I had no idea that such a replica existed, let alone within the United States. My wife and I wanted to make it a destination as much as the Grand Ole Opry while we were visiting Music City.

The Parthenon is imposing when you see it standing on a broad, raised mound in the center of Centenniel Park. We approached it from the western end (the back). The Doric columns are more massive than I expected and immediately exhibit their unique, slightly convex feature where they’re widest partway up from the base before tapering to the top (entasis), a characteristic that I vaguely recall from a college class in Western Civilization.

Doric columns with enstatic curvature.
Doric columns with entastic curvature.
Eastern pediment
Eastern pediment

Inside is another surprise, the towering statue of Athena Parthenos. It was fashioned under commission by Nashville sculptor Alan LeQuire and completed in 1990. It is a re-imagining of the original statue in the Greek Parthenon. Because the original has long since disappeared, the newer version is obviously not an exact reproduction, but there are descriptions of it by ancient historians and purported replicas as smaller statues and images on coins. The original was placed in the inner chamber (naos) of the Greek Parthenon. Nashville did the same.

Athena Parthenos
Athena Parthenos

Athena Parthenos’ wardrobe, headdress and shield, as well as the statue of Nike in her right palm, are gilded in 23.75-karat gold. (The original was supposed to have been gold-plated.) At almost 42ft in height, it is the tallest indoor statue in the Western world. Winged Nike in her palm alone is 6ft tall. I was amazed even by the enormous shield with its exquisite detail.

Athena's shield
Athena’s shield

The Nashville Parthenon also functions as a gallery for modern art in its lower level. It shouldn’t be missed by any visitor to Nashville.


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