|Washington Travel Guide|
Three years after Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton decided that Washington should house the nation's capital in 1790, construction began on the grand Capitol that was to grace the hill east of the Potomac. By the turn of the century, the movers, shakers and lawmakers began to move in. The British nearly burned it to the ground in 1814, which demoralised the Americans almost enough to provoke the abandonment of the whole DC experiment. However, some last-minute resolve saw the Capitol rebuilt from 1817 to 1819. The House and Senate wings were added in 1857, the nine-million-pound iron dome in 1863 and the east face in the 1950s, making the current icon over twice as large as the original building. The Capitol is the epicentre of the city as well as being its most prominent landmark; Washington's major avenues intersect at an imaginary point under the dome. If you want to watch Congress in session, you'll have to get a pass for the visitors' gallery from your Congressional Representative (if you have one) or the Sergeant-at-Arms (if you don't).
The dramatic Capitol Rotunda is decorated with a fresco painted by Italian
immigrant Constantino Brumidi. Called The Apotheosis of Washington, it
shows George Washington being welcomed into heaven by 13 angels representing
the original 13 states (and apparently modelled on 13 local prostitutes).
The hallways are decorated with more murals, showing the nation's heroes
and their deeds - the most recent is a portrait of the dead Challenger
astronauts. Statuary Hall is filled with stone men - theoretically two
distinguished citizens from each state, but in principal a few less than
that, as the floor wasn't strong enough to bear the weight of so much
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Library of Congress
The memorial is much more than a monument to the 16th US president. Completed in 1922, it quickly became a symbol of America's commitment to civil rights. From its steps in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr preached, 'I have a dream...' Designed to resemble a Greek temple, the monument's 36 columns represent the 36 states in Lincoln's union. The hands of the 19ft statue read A and L in American Sign Language to honor Lincoln's support for the Gallaudet College for the Deaf.
The Memorial closes the west end of the picture-postcard view down the
Mall from the US Capitol and the Washington Monument. It is a temple to
the man who saved the nation that he called 'the last best hope on Earth'.
This is best expressed through his elegant words that run along the north
and south wall of the chamber, including his masterpiece, the famous Gettysburg
Its 14 DC museums and the Smithsonian-run National Zoological Park together
draw millions of visitors each year, and they also offer year-round calendars
of films, lectures, kids' activities and other programs, most free.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The most moving remembrances are the notes, medals and mementos left
by survivors, family and friends since the memorial was completed in 1982.
Opponents to the design insisted that a more traditional sculpture be
added; a memorial to the women who served in the war was another later
The Presidential Palace – as it was once known – has changed a great deal over history (and with its changing residents). It was not originally white, for example. After the British burnt the building in the War of 1812, it was restored and painted. It was Teddy Roosevelt who later gave official sanction to the executive mansion's popular name.
Presidents have customised the property over time: Grant put in a personal zoo; FDR added a pool; Truman a balcony; Bush Snr a horseshoe-throwing lane; and Clinton a jogging track. Some residents never leave: it's said that Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman both sighted Lincoln's ghost in Abe's old study.
Back before Herbert Hoover's era, presidents used to open the doors at noon each day to shake visitors' hands. Alas, no longer. Daily tours of the White House have been suspended since 9-11 (although Laura Bush conducts a video tour at the White House Visitor Center).
Off the Beaten Track
A quick jaunt across the Potomac from the capital and you'll be in Arlington, home of the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and the Kennedy gravesites. If major monuments don't grab you, the distinct flavours of Arlington's different neighbourhoods will.
The Metrorail makes Bethesda one of the most accessible suburbs for Washington
visitors. It's about 10mi (16km) northwest of the city via cosmopolitan
C&O Canal National Historic Park
Today the canal corridor along the Potomac is preserved as a national park and is a major recreational resource for hikers, cyclists, boaters, backpackers and horse riders. Georgetown isn't easily accessible by public transport, though it's a nice walk west along Pennsylvania Ave from the Foggy Bottom station when the weather is decent.
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