T he Parthenon — an ancient Greek temple built in Athens, Greece, between 447 and 432 BCE — is one of the most famous landmarks in the world. But many people don’t realize that a full-scale replica was built far across the world in Nashville, Tennessee, to celebrate the state’s Centennial Exposition in 1897. Nashville had earned the nickname “the Athens of the South” due to its commitment to culture and higher education, and opted to honor the moniker by recreating one of ancient Greece’s most famous landmarks.
At the time, the Parthenon in Greece had fallen into disrepair, and organizers in Tennessee aimed to replicate the building as it looked in its heyday. Crews laid the first stone in 1895, and worked for two years to construct the many pillars and other features of the 65-foot-tall temple. While the exterior of the final product was an exact replica, the building’s interior featured a different layout than its Greek counterpart, and was used to display the many paintings and sculptures that were acquired for the exposition.
Initially, Nashville’s Parthenon was built using temporary materials and the plan was for it to be destroyed after the event. However, it was beloved by locals, so the city decided to rebuild the landmark with permanent materials. The structure reopened in 1931, though it still lacked an important original feature: the 42-foot-tall statue of the goddess Athena, for whom the original Parthenon was dedicated. Nashville commissioned work on the statue in 1982 and it was unveiled in 1990. In 2002, the statue was gilded and painted, adding the final touches to the replica.