Nashville, Tennessee: Athens of the South

I have never been to the Parthenon, or Athens, Greece, for that matter. But I went to Nashville, Tennessee, last week and have a new favorite tourist attraction: The Parthenon, Nashville. It’s an endearingly oddball places that you can’t miss if you chance to be in Nashville. This photo is a close-up of Athena’s face. The painted, gilded statue stands 42 feet tall in the main gallery. Sculpted in 1990, it is supposed to be an exact replica and I have read that ancient Greek statues were once brightly painted. I don’t know if the point of the painting was to inspire awe or seriously creep out the worshippers. Athena has the latter effect today.

Athena was the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, hence the spear, shield and helmet, which you see in the first photo. The snake is a symbol of Athena. Scholars seem divided on why the serpent is one of her symbols. I read that it symbolizes her connection to Medusa; I also read that it has a connection to pre-Hellenic myth, which told stories of Athena originating in Libya.

In her right hands, Athena holds Nike, the spirit of victory. Athena was the goddess of war and wisdom.


Lining the outer corridor of the room are plaster copies of the Parthenon Sculptures, formerly called the Elgin Marbles. This sculpture represents the goddess Iris and was carved, originally, on the Parthenon’s West Pediment.

The Three Goddesses, from the east pediment, also sit in plaster. The real ones sit in the British Museum.


Nashville’s Parthenon was built for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition (World’s Fair). Below the temple gallery is a small gallery of photographs and memorabilia from the exposition. To my knowledge, the Parthenon is the only remaining structure but in 1897 there was an auditorium, a Children’s Building, Commerce Building, Negro Building, Mexican Exhibit. Study of World’s Fairs was always my favorite topic in art history; they are such a window into what was popular at a given time, how artists and designers learned about global trends and what the “Wow Factor” was.


Well, cross that wonder of the world off my list.

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One thought on “Nashville, Tennessee: Athens of the South

  1. Pingback: Little Nashville’s Hidden Gem: The Muddy Boots | Someone told me there'd be wild things.

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