Why is there an Athena and Parthenon replica in Nashville, TN? Long before Nashville, Tennessee, gained fame as Music City USA, and was considered the world capital of country music it was actually called the Athens of the South. This phrase was coined because Nashville, TN had become an undisputed pioneer in education and culture in the southern United States. Thus for the 1897 Centennial celebration of the City, it should come as little surprise that a full scale replica of the Greek Parthenon was constructed
While other structures constructed for the city Centennial anniversary were later removed, this wood, brick and plaster structure was spared, as it had quickly won the hearts of the proud inhabitants of the growing city and in 1902 the surrounding land was converted into the City-owned Centennial Park.
In the 1920`s the deteriorating structure of the Parthenon replica, which had only been built to house an art exhibit at the 1897 celebration, was rebuilt in concrete. This process is said to have taken some 11 years, ending in 1931. The new permanent structure was designed in collaboration between local architect Russell E. Hart and an archaeologist and architect from New York, William Dinsmoor. The latter studied the original ruins in Greece as part of developing the plan for the inside of the Parthenon replica which is considered to be faithful to the original temple. The largest bronze doors in the world guard entry to the structure on the east and west sides.
Despite the reconstruction, the building was still not strong enough to stand more than a few decades thus in 1988, the building, which had continued to serve as an art museum, benefited from a major restoration that had a budget of 2 million dollars, re-opening with modernized gallery space, a gift shop and basement administrative offices.
It was only after this renovation that the Tennessee Athena statue was unveiled at the museum. The replica took Nashville artist Alan Le Quire 8 years to fashion, one year less the 9 years that the Greek sculptor Pheidas needed to create the original work in the year 438 B.C. Le Quire's Athena in is 41 feet and 10 inches tall, thus winning the title of largest indoor statue in the western world
While the original Athena was sculpted of gold and ivory, the Athena replica was crafted from gypsum cement and ground fiberglass, while her head was built on a frame of aluminum with a steel lowed section that sits on a concrete base which reaches into the Parthenon replica's basement to find support in the natural bedrock below. In 2002, the statue was gilded with gold plates and detailed painting was added by Le Quire, the original artist.
Daughter of Zeus, a large cult is said to have existed for Athena in Greece, thus making the Athena and Parthenon replica in Nashville, TN among the latest in a long line of tributes. It is a bit of Ancient Greece in modern, Nashville. An appropriate monument to a Goddess identified with wisdom and culture in a city that continues to boast numerous higher education institutions and a vibrant culture that centers on country music and jazz.