Thursday, April 7, 2022

The History Behind Nashville's Parthenon

By Michelle Shocklee

I love beautiful architecture, don't you? I enjoy visiting mansions, castles, cathedrals, and all manner of historic buildings, imagining the tools, the workers, the plans that went into building it. I mean, some of those ancient structures, built without modern technology, are A-mazing!

Such was the case when I first laid eyes on the Parthenon in Nashville. To be quite honest, I was overwhelmed by what I saw on that first-of-many visits. I haven't had the privilege of visiting Athens, Greece where the original Parthenon rises on the Acropolis, dominating the skyline of the city, but it's on my bucket list. I imagine it is beyond breathtaking to see in person! All that history and beauty. Someday!! 

Me in front of Nashville's Parthenon and Lake Watauga

Thankfully, we don't have to travel around the globe to get a glimpse of the Parthenon...or, I should say, its lookalike.

Back in January 2019, I shared about the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, a World's Fair-type event held from May to October, 1897. The city of Nashville's contribution to the celebration was the magnificent Parthenon, because the city was known as the "Athens of the South." It still stands today and welcomes visitors from around the world--even from Greece!

Because I became so fascinated with Nashville's Parthenon and the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, I set my new novel, Count the Nights by Stars, there. It's a split-time story, so the characters in 1897 attend the expo and, of course, spend time at the Parthenon. I had great fun taking day trips down to Centennial Park where I imagined my characters walking the paths of the park, riding on an Italian gondola on Lake Watauga, or resting in the shade of the enormous porticos of the Parthenon.

But after researching, writing, and publishing the book, I realized something. 

I don't know a whole lot about the real Parthenon. 

Well, we're going to change that right now!

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece. Wikipedia 1979

Construction began on the Parthenon in 447 BC and was completed in 432 BC during the height of the Greek empire. It is made from marble and regarded as the finest example of Grecian architecture. The celebrated Greek statesman Pericles is credited with ordering the design and construction of the Parthenon as a temple for Athena—the goddess of wisdom, arts, literature and war. The awe-inspiring structure sits high atop the Acropolis, an ancient citadel or compound that includes various remains of temples.

Over time the Parthenon was used by pagans, Christians (in the sixth century) and Muslims (in the fifteenth century). It has suffered fires, earthquake damage, explosions, and looting. In Acts 17:16-34, the Apostle Paul is in Athens. Can't you just imagine him there at the Parthenon, sharing the Good News? 

The southern side of the Parthenon, which sustained considerable damage in an explosion in 1687. Wikipedia

One of my favorite things about the Nashville Parthenon are the sculptures on the pediments (end gables). Not quite as incredible as the originals (seen below), they still give visitors an idea of how breathtakingly beautiful the Greek structure truly was. 

Sculptures from the original east pediment, British Museum 

Nashville Parthenon east pediment

In the 1920s, the Nashville Parthenon was falling into disrepair Like all the other wonderful buildings that were constructed for the 1897 exposition, it had originally been made with temporary materials. After the 6-month run of the expo, all the buildings were either torn down or moved...except for the Parthenon. The city decided to save it and it was completely rebuilt using concrete. 

I for one am extremely grateful it was saved!

Your turn: Have you been to the original Parthenon in Athens? Is it on your bucket list?

Michelle Shocklee
is the author of several historical novels, including Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at


1961. After a longtime resident at Nashville’s historic Maxwell House Hotel suffers a debilitating stroke, Audrey Whitfield is tasked with cleaning out the reclusive woman’s room. There, she discovers an elaborate scrapbook filled with memorabilia from the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Love notes on the backs of unmailed postcards inside capture Audrey’s imagination with hints of a forbidden romance . . . and troubling revelations about the disappearance of young women at the exposition. Audrey enlists the help of a handsome hotel guest as she tracks down clues and information about the mysterious “Peaches” and her regrets over one fateful day, nearly sixty-five years earlier.


  1. Thanks for posting today! I haven't been overseas and really don't expect to go there, but I've always thought it would be amazing to see such old cities and architecture. And to see places where Jesus or the disciples were would be awesome.

    1. Connie, if we ever get to travel overseas, the Holy Land is my absolute first choice! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Fascinating! Thank you. This post sent me on a quest because I kept thinking of the Pantheon/Rome and Paris (even while reading the book). Found a helpful article on the difference between the two original structures in Rome.

    Above all, I would like to add... I loved Count the Nights by Stars! I finished it yesterday. It seemed it took so long to arrive after pre-order months earlier. Then, once the box hit the doorstep, it became a struggle. It was one of those battles between wanting to devour the story, but then attempting (and failing) to use restraint because it would be over too soon. :o) Thank you for your research, hard work, and gifts that delivered a great story with a heart-felt message. I'll try to leave reviews soon. Blessings and congratulations!

    1. Rebecca, thank you so much for posting this! I'm so glad you enjoyed Priscilla and Audrey's story. I would greatly appreciate any reviews you can leave. <3

  3. P.S. Correction - the original structures in Rome and Greece...

  4. I've been to Nashville several times for writers conferences but never realized there is a replica of the original Parthenon right there. As you know, Michele, writers conference schedules are full every day of the three or so days. And if you are on a budget and/or need to get home to a job, you don't see much of the city the conference is in.

    I include a chapter in my book, Shelter Bay, that has my characters attending the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, I give very high marks to your descriptions of the Tennessee expo. You explained to me that the Tennessee event's design was greatly influenced by Chicago's. Several of the buildings from the Columbian still exist today, including the one that houses the Museum of Science and Industry. I get how you feel seeing the Parthenon in Nashville. They definitely are relics from another time in our country's history and I love learning the backstories of places we come to take for granted.

    Thanks for bringing the background of the real Parthenon to light for us!

    1. Sorry, I misspelled your name. I do know that Michelle has two "l's" :-)

    2. Thank you, Pam! I’d love to visit that museum! One of these days I’ll make it to Chicago! Lol about two L’s. 🤣