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Nashville may have earned the nickname the ‘Athens of the South’ long before its replica of the Parthenon was built in 1897, but today this awe-inspiring monument of classical Greek architecture is one of the city’s most popular attractions.
The Nashville Parthenon was constructed in 1897 as part of the Centennial Exposition, a six-month event held to celebrate Tennessee’s 100 years of statehood. Nashville had been colloquially known as the ‘Athens of the South’ – due primarily to the city’s focus on higher education – long before the Exposition. It is no surprise, then, that the city was chosen to be the site of the Exposition’s centerpiece. The Parthenon was unique in that it was the only building in the Exposition that was an exact replica of its original. Visitors can even see replicas of the Elgin Marbles (marble pieces that were once part of the architecture of the original Parthenon) lining the walls of the museum inside. While the first version of the Parthenon replica was not built to last long after the Exposition, it quickly gained popularity among residents and tourists alike. As a result, it was rebuilt in 1920 in order to serve as a lasting monument to classical architecture. Today, it remains the only full-scale replica of the Parthenon in the world.
In addition to drawing admiration for its architecture, today the Parthenon also functions as a thriving art museum. Visitors can enjoy the museum’s core collection of 63 different 19th and 20th century American paintings, as well as a rotating assortment of temporary exhibits; groups of ten or more can even take a guided tour (by reservation only). But perhaps the most significant feature of the Nashville Parthenon is its exact replica of the Athena statue that once served as the centerpiece of the ancient Greek original. Like her predecessor, the Nashville Athena is 42 feet (or, to be precise, 41 feet and 10 inches) tall; this makes her the Western Hemisphere’s tallest indoor statue. Alan LeQuire, a native Nashville artist, was commissioned to build her; the process took eight years, and she was finally unveiled in 1990. Twelve years later, in 2002, Athena was covered in 23.75-carat gold leaf.
Whether you elect to wander the halls of the museum and gaze up at the towering statue of Athena, or merely spend an afternoon sitting outside the steps of the Parthenon, rest assured that you will be submerged in a rich history that few other places in the US can match.