Nashville Tennessee is home to the most accurate replica of the Parthenon. Despite the accuracy of parts of it however, anyone who has seen the real Parthenon in Athens will understand that without its surrounding context, it can never even come close to recreating the experience.
The Temple in Tennessee
Nashville’s Parthenon stands as a tribute to ancient Grecian culture.
By Andrea Gross
The Parthenon is one of the world’s most renowned buildings, an artistic and architectural wonder that serves as a reminder of the glories of ancient Greece. And, as we all know, it sits atop the Acropolis, one of the highest hills in Athens.
To the surprise of many, it also sits atop a small hill in Nashville.
Of course, the Tennessee building is a replica, but in many ways it more closely resembles the original than the one in Athens does. The original Parthenon, built in the fifth century B.C., shows its age. Some of the columns have crumbled; the roof is completely gone. And the marble sculptures that decorated its exterior are now in the British Museum of London, the subject of a long-standing dispute between England and Greece.
But perhaps the greatest loss is the statue of Athena—the goddess of wisdom and prudent warfare—which the temple was built to honor. Created by Pheidias, the most famous sculptor of his time, and crafted from ivory and gold, the statue disappeared more than 1,500 years ago.
In contrast, the building in Nashville is in perfect condition. This means a visitor to Tennessee can see the Parthenon almost exactly as it was centuries ago, when Socrates and Plato were climbing its steps and talking of democracy.
In the mid-19th century, Nashville had a reputation as a center of wisdom, art and learning. It was one of the first Southern cities to have a public school system, and it had more colleges and universities than other cities its size. This, said some, indicated a reverence for philosophical thought and matters of the mind similar to that shown by the ancient Greeks.
In addition, the city was experimenting with the current trend in architecture—a revival of Greek classicism—and its public buildings were often graced with stately colonnades and porticos. Soon the city was widely known as “The Athens of the South.”
Thus, in 1897, when the city was asked to erect a pavilion for the state’s Centennial Exposition, it seemed only natural to build a life-size model of the Parthenon, the world’s first and only such model.
The Nashville Parthenon is as architecturally similar to the original as possible, given the knowledge and construction methods of the time. The Doric columns are gracefully tapered so as to appear straight from the perspective of the viewer; they lean slightly inwards to give the illusion of greater height.
But most important, the lost statue of Athena was reproduced by Nashville sculptor Alan LeQuire. The goddess stands regally attired in flowing gowns, holds a 6-foot-4-inch statue of Nike (the goddess of victory) in her right hand and is gilded with 8 pounds of 23.75 carat gold. Even little children gaze in awe at her splendor.
The Symposia Series, a group of discussions that cover a range of topics, including many focusing on Greece’s art and history, are held monthly. The talks are free and open to the public.
More Than the Parthenon
Not far from the Parthenon, the Tennessee State Capitol (designed by William Strickland) is widely considered to be one of the best examples of Greek-Revival architecture in the country. Originally built in 1859, it was restored in 1955, and some of the original pillars lie scattered on a patch of grass on the Capitol’s north side. They bear an eerie resemblance to the ruins of ancient Greece, while at the same time reminding folks of Tennessee’s classical heritage.
Other examples of this heritage line the streets around West End Avenue and Belle Meade Boulevard, where many homes have the trademark Greek columns and porticos. But perhaps the most famous of the Greek-Revival homes belonged to Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the U.S. His home, the Hermitage, was originally built in the Federal style, but after being destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt with the classical elements that were more in vogue at the time. A smaller home, Tulip Grove, on the outskirts of Jackson’s estate, provides an even better example of this type of architecture.
Athens Family Restaurant is housed in an architecturally bland building, but it’s known for its authentically spiced Greek food, including gyros and souvlaki (shish kebab). Of course, in what is altogether fitting for the culture that practically invented democracy, the chefs also will serve a thoroughly American hamburger.
Planning Your Trip
For more information on the Nashville Parthenon, call (800) 657-6910 or visit www.nashville.gov/parthenon or www.visitmusiccity.com. For trip-planning help, contact your AAA Travel agent or visit AAA.com/travel.
ANDREA GROSS is a freelance writer based in Denver.