Why is the Parthenon in Nashville?

Nashville's famous landmark dates back all the way to 1896.

Date Posted: February 20, 2022

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The Parthenon in the fall

The Parthenon in the fall

The Parthenon in Centennial Park in Nashville is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens Greece. It was designed and built in 1897 by architect William Crawford Smith as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition which celebrated the 100th anniversary of Tennessee’s entry into the union in 1796. U.S. president at the time, William McKinley officially opened the exposition from the White House when he pressed a button that started the fair’s machinery. McKinley would visit in person a month later.

Many buildings and halls were built in honor of the exposition across the state of Tennessee. Nashville’s most prominent of these (and the only one still standing) was the Parthenon. It was chosen for Nashville because of the city’s nickname as the “Athens of the South”. The famous pyramid in Memphis was also built for this exposition, it was chosen in honor of Memphis’ Egyptian name.

The Parthenon was originally built of plaster, wood and brick and was not intended to be permanent but the cost of demolishing it along with it’s popularity among residents and visitors resulted in it being left standing. Within the next 20 years, weather caused significant deterioration to it so it was rebuilt on the same foundation in concrete in the 1920s.

Today the Parthenon serves as the centerpiece of Centennial Park, Nashville’s premier urban park and inside it functions as an art museum. The centerpiece of the museum inside just like in ancient Greece is a 40 foot tall sculpture of Athena built by Nashville sculptor Alan LeQuire.

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