I have visited two Parthenons. What, you didn’t know there were two of them? You’re probably aware of the most famous Parthenon sitting atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. I visited that one a few months ago as part of my three-month Mediterranean Trek.
But this wasn’t the first Parthenon I’ve been to.
Several years ago, I took my first “official” solo trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Like most visitors to this city, I enjoyed the music scene, but I also explored other elements of Nashville, like its history, its Bible belt Christianity, and its parks. Yes, Nashville has some excellent parks that alone may be enough to warrant a trip! There’s the huge Bicentennial Park, the Riverfront Park along the Cumberland, and Centennial Park. The centerpiece of Centennial park is a full-scale replica of Athens’ Parthenon. Seeing this Parthenon is what initially motivated me to visit Greece.
Although Tennessee’s Parthenon is a copy of the one in Greece, each have their own unique characteristics. If you’ve seen one, you may want to plan a trip to go see the other. If you have yet to see either, maybe this comparison will help you decide which to see first!
Athens: Obviously, Athens’ ancient Acropolis and Parthenon has a long, rich history, so I’ll just go over some of the highlights that makes it what it is today. The Parthenon was built in ancient Greece as part of the Acropolis, or “City on High”. However, it wasn’t actually a city, but a mountain in the center of Athens where several temples were erected for various gods. The biggest, the Parthenon, was dedicated to Athena, a goddess who is the virgin patron of her namesake city. After thousands of years, the building is understandably in ruins, but some events, such as thievery and an accidental explosion when it was used for military storage, left it in even further shambles.
Nashville: The Parthenon’s replica was one of many buildings constructed on a piece of acreage in celebration of the city’s 100th year. The land aptly became known as Centennial Park. If you visit today, the only building you’ll find in the park is the Parthenon. What happened to all the other buildings? All of the exposition buildings were made to be temporary, but Nashville citizens fell in love with their version of the Parthenon. They protested until the city officials decided to make some structural adjustments to the Parthenon so that it would stand the test of time.
Athens: The Parthenon is located on a hill called the Acropolis, in the center of downtown. Back in the day, it was a convenient reminder for the Greeks to pay respect to their religion, especially since they could only travel by feet or chariot. Today, it makes it conveniently located for travelers, who may not even need to take the subway to reach it! I stayed at two hostels in Athens. Most of my time was spent at Athens Backpackers, but one night was spent in AthenStyle. Both of these hostels had a rooftop lookout where you could see the Parthenon, which was especially beautiful lit-up at night. During the day, it was just a short walk (albeit uphill) from both of these places to reach the entrance.
Nashville: Because this park was created one hundred years after the downtown area was established, it’s a couple of miles away from other city sites. That doesn’t mean that the Parthenon isn’t accessible, though! Since many people drive to Nashville, they will appreciate that it’s much easier to park here than it is in the city center. I did not visit with a car, but there were several days when I would walk both in the downtown and Centennial Park areas. I stayed at Music City Hostel, which was at an ideal location between the Parthenon and other Nashville attractions.
Athens: As mentioned above, the original Parthenon is in disrepair. However, there are people working on its preservation. Many of the original attached pieces of art were taken by the British. (I would love to see a fight break out in this post’s comments about whether or not they were stolen!) Other remaining pieces were moved to the neighboring Acropolis Museum. Regardless, this is in every sense an ancient ruin, and visitors have to stay behind the roped-off area which is several meters away from the Parthenon itself.
Nashville: Unlike the Athens version, this replica invites people to come inside! While it’s not made with expensive marble like Greece’s, it is structurally sound and fully intact. In addition, of the original Parthenon’s sculptures were replicated and displayed on this Parthenon’s exterior. In other words, it is not a replica of the Greek Parthenon as we see it today. Other than the material it’s made of, it looks exactly like what the Parthenon would have looked like shortly after its construction.
Athens: Surrounding the Parthenon are several other ancient Greek temples. Because it’s on a hill, the views of the city are stunning from up here. Although you can’t touch any of the buildings, you can walk among many pieces of original marble lying around. On the side of the hill is also a historic site that includes two theaters. If you’re into art, you will only see replica sculptures at the Acropolis, but visiting the Acropolis Museum down the hill may be worth the admission. My favorite thing to do at the Acropolis was listen to Rick Steves’ audio tour, which you can download for free onto your phone. On this tour, he even mentions the merit of the other Parthenon, located in…
Nashville: Entering through the basement of the Parthenon, you’ll find lockers and a gift shop. You can then walk up through the next several floors, which is a history museum. The displayed history is a combination of Nashville history (particularly pertaining to the Parthenon) and ancient history of the Athens Acropolis. When you reach the top level, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a 42-foot statue of Athena, the tallest indoor sculpture in the western world. This is a replica of what was originally found in the Athens Parthenon, but no one knows what happened to that one. It’s even painted in the gold and bright colors that all the Acropolis statues were once painted with. (Though they did use fake gold instead of the real thing!)
Athens: Admission to the Acropolis is typically 12 euros, or free for those under 19. I was fortunate enough to be in Athens during European Heritage Days. During this last weekend in September, all visits are free! (A few other Greek holidays also provide free admission.) The ticket also includes admission to other ancient Greek sites around Athens, so this ticket alone may be your only expense in Athens besides, food, accommodations, and transportation. If you don’t want to see the Parthenon up-close (although I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to!), there are several surrounding hills and buildings that offer a great view.
Nashville: Normal admission is $6 for adults or $4 for children and seniors. There are sometimes events outside of normal museum hours that would involve a different rate. However, if you don’t want to go inside (again, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to!), no one can stop you from enjoying the exterior, and the rest of Centennial Park, for absolutely free! Unlike the other Parthenon, you can touch, walk on, and get up close to building at no expense. It’s even lit up at night like the original! The only caveat is that it’s not on a hill, so you can’t see it outside of Centennial Park.
Which Parthenon would you like to visit next? Let me know in the comments!