History of the Nashville Parthenon and the Tennessee Centennial Exposition

Exploring the Nashville Parthenon and the Tennessee Centennial Exposition

Copyright Jan Duke
© Jan Duke

In 1796 Tennessee became the 16th state of the of the Union. The name of Tennessee comes from the Cherokee name Tanasai, which was a Village in the area.

With the first arrivals of non-Indian settlers, such as Timothy Demontbruen, James Robertson and the Donelson Party, in the early 1790's, Tennessee quickly severed it ties as being known as the western part of North Carolina, and later The State of Franklin, and applied for admission into the Union.

Within the next century, Tennessee found itself transformed from a trading post, frequented by Mountain Men exploring the fur trades from the Mississippi river to the Upper Illinois  territories; to a thriving Educational and Commerce center.<br/>
In the 1840's educator Philip Lindsay thought that Nashville should encourage the ideals of Classical Greek education, such as Philosophy and Latin and be known as the Athens of the West. While that nick -name never took hold, decades later Nashville would be given a similar nick-name; Athens of the South, that would became synonymous with Nashville until the title of Music City arrived, with the dawn of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930's. If you look in the yellow pages of Nashville, you will still find many companies with the name of Athens within their title.<br/>
In 1895 Tennessee searched for a way to commemorate its 100-year anniversary and decided on a centennial exposition to be staged in its capitol of Nashville and then building an exact replica of the Parthenon of ancient Greece and thus the Parthenon, being the pinnacle of the Grand Exposition, was the first building erected.

Photo Gallery of the Nashville Parthenon

The construction of 36 other buildings followed, with the Parthenon setting the theme. Some of these were the Commerce Building , Memphis Shelby Co. Tennessee Pyramid, Womens Building and the Negro Building, which provided a speaking ground for such notables as Booker T. Washington.

With the time constraints of having to complete the Exposition grounds by 1896, all of the Buildings were constructed using materials that would only survive through the duration of the Exposition.

Because of bureaucratic red tape and the Presidential elections of 1896, the Grand Centennial Exposition did not occur until 1897, one year after the statehood celebration. Even with the delayed opening, The Centennial Celebration was a huge success, with over 1.8 million visitors over a 6-month period.

Within two yeas of the close of the Centennial Exposition, all of the buildings had been torn down with the exception of three, The Parthenon, The Alabama Building and the Knights of Pythias building, which was later removed and became a private residence in Franklin Tennessee. When it came time to remove the Parthenon, there was such a revolt in Nashville, that the demolition was halted.<br/>
The Parthenon replica built with its temporary materials lasted for 23 years. In 1920 because of the popularity of the structure, the city of Nashville, over the next 11 years replaced the plaster, wood and brick building using permanent materials, and that version still stands today.

Photo Gallery of the Nashville Parthenon

Nowhere else in the world can you see the splendor of what the Parthenon looked like in its heyday.

In Greece the original Parthenon sits as a sketchy resemblance of its past prominence, having been devastated by an explosion in the year 1687 AD. and surviving somewhat the trails of War, Bureaucracy and Tyranny.

Nashville, with its full-scale replica can show you the true beauty of the massive structure the Greeks erected, to honor the Goddess Athena.

The Parthenon in Nashville is the only full size replica in existence. Its huge 7 ton Bronze entrance doors on the east and west sides are the largest of their kind in the world. The pediment reliefs were created from direct casts of the originals, which are housed in the British Museum of Art.

Thanks to a commission with Nashville Artist/Sculptor Allen LeQuire in 1990, The Parthenon also is host of the largest indoor statue in the western hemisphere.

Photo Gallery of the Nashville Parthenon

The true center- piece of the Nashville Parthenon is the 41 foot 10 inch tall gold leafed statue of the Goddess Athena. Alan LeQuire should be lauded as one of the premiere sculptors of the world for his awe-inspiring recreation.

During the reign of Pericles, the original Athena Parthenos created by Pheidias in the years 449 to 432 BC was constructed of Gold and Ivory plates, attached to a frame made up of wood, metal, clay and plaster. Athena's clothing and armament were made up of Gold and her face, hands and feet were of Ivory. Her eyes were constructed of precious jewels.

When Christianity swept the Roman Empire by the year 500 AD, many of the former pagan temples were rededicated as Christian Churches, This also included the Parthenon. By this time the Great Athena Sculpture by Pheidias had disappeared.

As a footnote, while researching for this article, I learned that Pheidias had created a huge statue of Zeus, and also a smaller, earlier bronze and ivory version of an Athena statue, called Athena Promachos.

Greece had been left in ruins in the year 480BC by the Persians. All of the buildings and statues created during the rein of Pericles 40 years later, were grander scale recreations of earlier structures, including the Athena Parthenos.

I don't think that anyone really knows what happened to the Athena Parthenos, but there are written records of the Athena Promachos and by some accounts, the Athena Parthenos being moved by the Byzantine Empire to Constantinople in the the 5th century AD. Most of the Constantinople history only lists a bronze and ivory statue (Athena Promachos). Wether both statues were there or not, the fact remains that all of the statues and the many of the buildings of Constantinople were completely destroyed by a public mob in the year 1203AD.

The main thing that struck me during my research was; Archeologist discovered a small workshop of Pheidias, at the location where the Zeus statue was created. At the bottom of a pit they discovered a Tea cup, which had the name of Pheidias etched into it.

It dawned on me that Pheidias was probably one of the greatest artist of all time, and the only thing that the world still has, that he had created is.......The Tea Cup.<br/>
Photo Gallery of the Nashville Parthenon

Was this page helpful?