The Parthenon

This Nashville landmark is the world’s only exact-size replica of the original temple in Athens, Greece. For the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, Nashville drew upon its nickname “Athens of the South” and built the art building as a copy of the most famous example of Greek classical architecture. The Parthenon crystallized for Nashvillians their image of themselves and their city, and although all the buildings of the Centennial were built to be temporary, they were loathe to tear it down at the conclusion of the exposition. The exterior coating, sculpture, and decorative work, made of plaster, soon deteriorated. After repeated patching kept destruction at bay for several years, the city, with the involvement of local architect Russell Hart and architectural historian William Bell Dinsmoor, decided in 1920 to rebuild the Parthenon in lasting materials.

The roof, expanded walls, and load-bearing columns were made of reinforced concrete, the novel new building material of the twentieth century, and the brick walls and non-load-bearing columns of the 1897 building were retained and incorporated into the new construction. For the permanent surface treatment Hart selected a cast concrete aggregate, taken from a formula by John Earley of Washington, D.C., for all exterior surfaces as well as the roof tiles, decorative work, and sculpture. The firm of Foster and Creighton served as general contractors. Sculptor George Julian Zolnay, creator of the pedimental sculptures on the 1897 Parthenon, returned to make the metopes of the Doric frieze, and Nashville sculptor Belle Kinney and her husband Leopold Scholz created the permanent pediment figures. To assist them in creating figures as close to the original as possible, the Park Board purchased from the British Museum a set of casts of the original marble fragments. Work on the exterior of the building was completed by 1925.

The interior of the Parthenon built for the Centennial was a series of galleries for exhibiting the enormous collection of paintings and sculptures borrowed from Europe and throughout the United States for the exposition. The permanent structure’s interior, however, was to be a complete replica and as accurate as scholarship would allow. Due to various financial crises, work continued haltingly until completed in 1931. When the doors were opened to the public, two major elements were still missing: the great statue of Athena in the naos and the Ionic frieze on the exterior. Donations for the Athena accumulated over the years, and in 1982 the Park Board commissioned Nashville sculptor Alan LeQuire to recreate the forty-two-foot statue for the interior, a task that took almost eight years. Its unveiling on May 20, 1990, generated excitement and renewal of interest in the Nashville Parthenon as an icon of the city.

Suggested Reading

Christine M. Kreyling et al., Classical Nashville: Athens of the South (1996)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Parthenon
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 24, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018