The City of Nashville Built a Full-Scale Replica of the Parthenon in 1897, and It’s Still Standing Today

Pho­to by Mayur Phadtare, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

A recent exec­u­tive order stat­ing that “the clas­si­cal archi­tec­tur­al style shall be the pre­ferred and default style” for fed­er­al build­ings in the U.S. has remind­ed some of oth­er exec­u­tives who enforced neo­clas­si­ci­cism as the state’s offi­cial aes­thet­ic dog­ma. In the case of the U.S., how­ev­er, neo­clas­si­cal build­ing does not draw from ancient sources, but from “a 19th cen­tu­ry inter­pre­ta­tion of what peo­ple were doing in Rome and Athens mil­len­nia ago,” as Steve Rose writes at The Guardian.

In oth­er words, con­tem­po­rary “clas­si­cal archi­tec­tur­al style” in the U.S. is a copy of a copy. Kitsch. But maybe the cre­ation of sim­u­la­tions is what Amer­i­ca does best, though not typ­i­cal­ly under threat of gov­ern­ment sanc­tion should one do oth­er­wise. “Liv­ing in the rel­a­tive­ly youth­ful coun­try that’s a mere 241 years old,” Isaac Kaplan wrote at Art­sy in 2017, “it’s under­stand­able that some Amer­i­cans might decide to import a lit­tle extra his­to­ry from abroad,” by mak­ing ver­sions of ancient mon­u­ments in their back­yard.

Such build­ings span the coun­try, from off­beat road­side attrac­tions to the most expen­sive and elab­o­rate recre­ations. “There is a faux-Venice in Las Vegas, and a Stone­henge II in Texas.” And in Nashville, Ten­nessee: a full-scale repli­ca of the Parthenon, built in 1897 for the Cen­ten­ni­al Expo­si­tion cel­e­brat­ing the state’s 100th anniver­sary. The detailed re-cre­ation went fur­ther than imi­tat­ing a ruin. It “restored the aspects of the orig­i­nal Parthenon that were lost or dam­aged” in an inter­pre­tive re-cre­ation of what it might have looked like.

The build­ing held the Exposition’s art gallery and “spoke to the city’s self-declared rep­u­ta­tion as the ‘Athens of the South.’” (Mem­phis coun­tered the grand archi­tec­tur­al ges­ture by build­ing a pyra­mid; Athens, Geor­gia, how­ev­er, did not respond in kind.) Con­struct­ed out of con­crete, and not built to out­last the cel­e­bra­tions, the repli­ca began to fall apart soon after­wards, prompt­ing a restora­tion effort in 1920 aimed at mak­ing the Nashville Parthenon as “endur­ing and as his­tor­i­cal­ly true to the orig­i­nal Parthenon as pos­si­ble.”

The Great Depres­sion halt­ed plans for an enor­mous stat­ue of Athena, meant to recre­ate one that once stood inside the orig­i­nal Parthenon, but after decades of dona­tions it was final­ly unveiled in 1990. Stand­ing 42 feet high, the mas­sive fig­ure holds a 6‑foot-4-inch stat­ue of the god­dess Nike in her hand. Unlike 19th cen­tu­ry neo­clas­si­cal recre­ations, Athena “boasts a major his­tor­i­cal detail: poly­chromy,” paint­ed in bright greens, reds, and blues, right­ing “the long-held and his­tor­i­cal­ly incor­rect view of the ancient past as one dom­i­nat­ed by white­ness.”

Image by Dean Dixon, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

See more pho­tographs from 1909 at the Library of Con­gress dig­i­tal col­lec­tions, of the repli­ca of a tem­ple orig­i­nal­ly ded­i­cat­ed to hon­or­ing the female per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of wis­dom. And at the top, see a much more recent pho­to of the restored build­ing. The Nashville Parthenon is still in busi­ness, charg­ing rea­son­able admis­sion for a view tourists could nev­er get in Athens, as well as a per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of 63 paint­ings by Amer­i­can artists and gal­leries hous­ing tem­po­rary shows and exhibits.

via @DaveEverts

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Explore Ancient Athens 3D, a Dig­i­tal Recon­struc­tion of the Greek City-State at the Height of Its Influ­ence

Artist is Cre­at­ing a Parthenon Made of 100,000 Banned Books: A Mon­u­ment to Democ­ra­cy & Intel­lec­tu­al Free­dom

The His­to­ry of Ancient Greece in 18 Min­utes: A Brisk Primer Nar­rat­ed by Bri­an Cox

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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