Just a short ride from Nashville’s downtown honky-tonks, a much-loved replica of Greece's most famous temple serves as the high altar to the city's cultural life.
A full-sized replica of one of Classical Greece’s most treasured buildings is an unlikely Nashville landmark, but surprisingly, it works. The Parthenon is the centerpiece of Nashville’s Centennial Park, and houses an art museum and a 42-foot (13-meter) high statue of the Greek goddess Athena.
Long before Nashville was dubbed "Music City" it was known as the "Athens of the South." This nickname took physical form during Tennessee's 1897 Centennial Exposition, which featured many recreations of ancient buildings. The Greek Parthenon was the centerpiece, and the only exact reproduction built to scale. Replicas of the Parthenon Marbles are direct casts taken from the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Those buildings for the exposition were erected as temporary structures. The Parthenon, however, proved so popular with locals and visitors that it was saved from demolition.
Originally constructed from timber, plaster and brick, The Parthenon was entirely rebuilt in the 1920s and ’30s from concrete. The Parthenon now serves as Nashville's art museum. Step through the enormous Doric columns and gaze up at the statue of Athena, one of the largest indoor sculptures in the Western world. Then explore the collection of 63 paintings from 19th- and 20th-century American artists.
In summertime the building serves as a spectacular backdrop for theater productions, so be sure to check the local press for performance times. The Parthenon is a highlight of the Nashville Nights and Lights Tour, during which you may be lucky enough to catch the surreal sight of a toga party in full swing.
While you’re at The Parthenon, take advantage of Centennial Park’s many attractions. Bring some bread to feed the ducks at the nearby lake, explore the gardens, and admire the decommissioned saber jet airplane and locomotive. It's not uncommon to find a market or fair set up on the lawns as well.
The Parthenon is open Tuesdays to Saturdays and takes about two hours to properly explore. Centennial Park is approximately two miles (three kilometers) west of downtown Nashville. City buses stop nearby and parking is free.