Nashville Parthenon: Unique Tennessee Landmark

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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. 

Welcome to Tennessee sign. The Nashville Parthenon is a famous landmark of Tennessee.

(This post is part of an ongoing series about our epic family road trip from Oregon to Georgia in summer 2021. To start at the beginning, check out our “Ready, Set…Reset! post)

Welcome to Nashville!

We arrived at Centennial Park in Nashville at about 10 am. We knew we only had a few hours in Nashville with our kids, so we had decided that this would be our only stop.

Our first glimpse of the Parthenon was from the far end of Centennial Park, so it seemed rather small and unimpressive.

The Nashville Parthenon is located in a huge city park that makes the structure appear smaller than it truly is.
The Nashville Parthenon is dwarfed by the huge city park where it is located.

As we drove closer, we soon realized that the Parthenon is much bigger than it looks!

The humidity in the South is oppressive in July, and this was the first day we felt it. At 10 am, we were already sweating just minutes after stepping out of the van’s air-conditioning (ugh). I made a mental note that I hope to be able to return to explore more of Nashville in the winter, without the humidity!

Family photo in front of the Nashville Parthenon.
Squinting in the bright sunshine in front of the Parthenon.

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. 

Truly Magnificent 

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.

Kids running around the base of the Nashville Parthenon's columns.
Kids in awe of the sheer size.

Even the giant columns that all differ slightly in size and are placed at different distances from each other was copied from the original.

Portico and columns on the Nashville Parthenon.
Sunlight streaming through the columns

My kids had fun trying to circle a column with their arms. 

Kids holding hands around a column at the Nashville Parthenon.
How many kids does it take to cover the circumference?

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. 

Battle scenes depicted on the top of the Parthenon.
Details from the front of the Parthenon

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! 

Kids sitting on a dragon mosaic statue in front of the Nashville Parthenon.
Colorful dragon mosaic statue in front of the Nashville Parthenon

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. 

Entrance to the Nashville Parthenon, with kids sitting on dragon statue in foreground.
Entrance below ground.

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.

Painting on display at the Nashville Parthenon. Painting depicts a coastal scene with the sun breaking through clouds.
Another painting on display

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.

Painting inside the art gallery at the Nashville Parthenon. Painting shows a  coastal scene.
September By The Sea, by Cullen Yates.

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. 

Display showing architectural features of the Nashville Parthenon, with boy studying the display.
Rattlesnake learning about architectural features

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”. 

Placard for the Nashville Parthenon.

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

The Athena Parthenos statue inside the Nashville Parthenon.
Full-scale replica of the Athena Parthenos inside the Nashville Parthenon

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.

Close up of Athena Parthenos' head. Nashville, TN
Images from the inside of Athena's shield. Nashville, Tennessee.
Inside Athena’s shield
Shield of Athena Parthenos with battle scenes and Gryphon's head on it.
Athena’s shield with battle scenes on it.
Close up of snake head with Athena Parthenos.
Snake head
Close up of Athena Parthenos' toes and sandal. Nashville, TN
Athena’s toes and sandal

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.

Boy in front of measuring stick to see how his height compares with the Nike statue.
My son comparing his height to the height of the Nike statue.
Placard discussing Nike's role in Greek mythology.

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.

Placard describing the creation of the Nashville Athena Parthenon statue.
How the Athena Parthenos eventually came to Nashville’s Parthenon.

Nearly 100 years after the Nashville Parthenon was first built, the Athena statue was unveiled. The gold leaf was added later.

Symbolism of the statue details at the Nashville Parthenon.

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.

Kids in front of gigantic doors at the Nashville Parthenon.
Huge doors!

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!

Placard about the largest set of matching bronze doors in the world.

Outside the Naos, in the room known as the Treasury room, there are plaster replicas of the Parthenon marbles.

Plaster casts of the original Parthenos 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.

The Nashville Parthenon as seen from the stairs below.

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.

Woman in front of statue of Athena Parthenos in Nashville.
Jenn in front of the Athena Parthenos.

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

Collage of images from the Nashville Parthenon in Tennessee.
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Collage of images from the Nashville Parthenon.
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About the author

I’m Jenn Warren, Co-Founder and Content Creator for Dinkum Tribe. I'm a Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Jamaica and California, married to my college sweetheart. I've been a missionary kid, pastor’s kid and (former) pastor’s wife. My husband and I traveled as pastors for 12 years throughout the United States and Canada before becoming travel content creators.

I love living in Oregon and exploring new places with my family. We’ve road tripped over 30,000 miles across the United States and Western Canada with our six children since their infancy. Prior to our marriage, I also lived in Spain for a summer and spent another summer in Mexico.

I’ve homeschooled our six children for over 10 years, and served on the board of a homeschool co-op for 4 years. Several members of our family are neurodivergent (gifted, ADHD, cPTSD), and I’ve spent 5+ years learning how to accommodate neurodivergent needs as well as supporting the resultant mental health challenges (anxiety, depression).

I’ve also served as a support group leader and co-director of Pure Life Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports families struggling with sexual addiction.

I write about family travel and road trips, millennial marriage, general parenting, homeschooling, parenting neurodivergent children, grief, and abuse recovery.


  1. Wow, really cool. I had no idea this was on Nashville, I’m actually planning a trip to Tennessee and completely missed this

  2. I didn’t get a chance to go inside the Parthenon when I visited Nashville and always wondered what it was like inside. After reading this post, I now need another trip to Nashville to check it out.

    1. What’s crazy is that it’s been in Tennessee for over 100 years, and people still don’t know about it.😂

  3. I’ve been to Nashville so many times, and I’ve missed the Parthenon every single time! I’ll have to pay a visit the next time I’m there. It sounds like it’s a fascinating place to visit, and there’s a lot to learn. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Woow this is amazing! I had absolutely no idea Nashville had a Parthenon! Adding this to my never-ending US bucketlist!

  5. I have been here and it is a fantastic structure. So cool to see the friezes complete and envision how the Parthenon likely looked when it was a complete structure in the 5th c. BC. I loved the Athena and Nike statue. and the casts of the Elgin marbles that are displayed in the adjacent room.

  6. Wow, I had no idea Nashville had a Parthenon. The building is fascinating. Although I have not seen the one in Nashville, I can imagine its size, having visited a similar structure in Paris

    1. It’s quite a surprise for most people when they find out – I know I was surprised!

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