What’s so amazing about the Nashville Parthenon? It’s just a big copy of an ancient building, right? It’s not even an original creation!
Sure, you can say that (pretty sure that’s what my husband was thinking while we drove there 😂). But, as with many things, seeing something in real life makes a big difference.
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Welcome to Nashville!
Our first glimpse of the Parthenon was from the far end of Centennial Park, so it seemed rather small and unimpressive.
As we drove closer, we soon realized that the Parthenon is much bigger than it looks!
The boys had been learning Ancient History through the Story of the World, so it was the perfect time to review some of the fun Greek mythology we had learned. We had parked near the back end of the building, so we had to walk around to the front to enter.
We were wowed at the sheer size of the columns! The Nashville Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the ancient monument itself, and the construction copied most of the aspects of the original Parthenon.
Even the giant columns that all differ slightly in size and are placed at different distances from each other was copied from the original.
My kids had fun trying to circle a column with their arms.
We took a few minutes to admire the friezes at the top and to explain some of the scenes. Both Brian and I had the privilege of seeing the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum in our college years, and we both appreciated seeing them as they would have originally been placed.
Outside of the Parthenon
Walking around the outside through the huge colonnade, we were struck by the beauty of the building’s position as the centerpiece of Centennial Park as well as the beauty of the building itself. The parkland, full of green lawns, stately trees, and still ponds, was an excellent backdrop for this reproduction of the Parthenon.
You might be in the heart of downtown Nashville, but you feel as though you’re in a country estate!
As we came around the front of the building, my daughter “Burro” squealed in delight to see the mosaic dragon sculpture sitting outside the front entrance! Photo op!
The entrance to the interior of the Parthenon is not through the giant doors, but rather through the underground, handicap-accessible entrance. The gift shop doubles as the ticket counter and is the first thing you pass as you go inside.
Our kids loved all the fun tchotchkes in the shop, but we didn’t have a lot of time to look around, so we hustled out of there and into the gallery.
Art at the Parthenon
The art gallery houses a variety of temporary shows, as well as a permanent collection that was mostly donated by James M. Cowan. To be honest, the temporary art exhibits that were up when we visited were weird and creepy for my kids, so we skipped past them and spent most of our time checking out the Cowan collection.
My favorite painting was this one by Cullen Yates, called “September by the Sea”. Yates is one of several American artists whose works were collected by James M. Cowan.
When the city of Nashville decided to designate the Parthenon to serve as the city’s art museum, Cowan donated 63 paintings to start the city’s permanent art collection. They are beautiful works!
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History of the Nashville Parthenon
Each of our kids had grabbed an activity book to work on while exploring Nashville’s Parthenon. Several displays contained different fun facts about Ancient Greece, the original Parthenon, and the full-scale replica of the Parthenon.
We learned that the Nashville Parthenon was built as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897. The Parthenon building was chosen because Nashville was known as the “Athens of the South”.
The buildings for the Centennial Exposition were all only meant to be temporary, but the citizens of Nashville liked the Parthenon so much that they didn’t tear it down along with the other buildings after the Exposition. Instead, when it started to become unsafe in the 1920s, the people of Nashville raised funds to create a permanent structure.
The original Parthenon in Greece was considered to be the pinnacle of classical architecture. We took a few minutes to familiarize ourselves with those unique features and to look for the architectural features in the building. There is an architecture tour available monthly for those who want more information on this beautiful building.
The Goddess Athena
As we entered the main hall (called the Naos) we stood in awe of the Athena statue. She is huge! The ancient goddess of wisdom fills the room, and the gold leaf and carefully crafted details make her seem alive.
She is the tallest indoor statue in the United States, and you can’t help but stare!
I was shocked to learn that the “small” statue of Nike sitting in Athena’s right palm is 6 feet tall! Of course, the kids wanted to measure themselves against that height. The exhibit designers have done an excellent job of making the Parthenon accessible to kids.
This re-creation of the 42-foot statue Athena was not included in the original building and was not commissioned until 1982. Local sculptor Alan Lequire studied all the available archaeological information about the original statue and then built the replica based on his research.
Nearly 100 years after the Nashville Parthenon was first built, the Athena statue was unveiled. The gold leaf was added later.
Other interesting facts and features of the Nashville Parthenon
There’s a lot of “wow” factor inside the Nashville Parthenon. The focus of the Parthenon is, of course, the giant statue, but the 24-foot high double doors on either end of the Naos are equally impressive.
Made of solid bronze, they are considered to be the world’s largest matching pair. I’m guessing it would be difficult to determine that without a scale!
Outside the Naos, in the room known as the Treasury room, there are plaster replicas of the Parthenon marbles.
The builders of this Parthenon bought direct casts of the original sculptures (also known as the Elgin Marbles) from the British Museum so that they could recreate the outer friezes accurately. I was again impressed by this attention to detail.
By this point, we had seen most everything, and our kids were ready to continue on our way. I made a short stop at the gift shop to pick up a Christmas ornament, and we loaded up.
Even my history teacher-husband had to acknowledge that the Nashville Parthenon was a great place to immerse ourselves in some ancient Greek culture and architecture.
© Copyright Jennifer D. Warren 2022