Sunday, October 21, 2012
If you're like me (and I hope you aren't, because I don't think this world is big enough to accommodate the two of us), you've seen the US Capitol innumerable times in numerous forms of media - newspapers, magazines, books, movies, TV programs and the like. And if you're like me (though you would be crazy for wanting to be so), you're still not prepared for the sheer scale of the building as the East Front emerges into view walking along 1st Street NE from the Capitol South Metro station. My wife and daughter were just as suitably impressed by that familiar dome, topped by the State of Freedom:
It was a beautiful Saturday in the District of Columbia as we came to observe the home of Congress, which quite literally sits in the center of Washington - as my guidebook explains:
...the city quadrants extend from the building, and the numbered and lettered streets count away from its central axis.
We joined the 1 p.m. Capitol Tour, which began with a short film briefing on the history of the building and the work done by the Senate and the House of Representatives. We were next taken to the Rotunda, point zero for all of the District. The Rotunda is 180 feet (55 meters) high and 96 feet (29 meters) across, and is quite a sight to see when craning your neck to look straight up:
The fresco at the top is a rather overly-romantic depiction of George Washington surrounded by the symbols of democracy, arts, science and industry, plus thirteen women representing the original colonies. Italian artist Constantino Brumidi was clearly influenced by the works of some of his forebears from the old country:
Below the dome canopy is a frieze depicting various figures from New World history, starting with Columbus' arrival:
The floor is dominated by eight large oil paintings and a number of busts and statues of famous Yanks. Two of the paintings I recognized right away: John Trumbull's depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and his portrayal of General John Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga:
In addition to the Rotunda, our tour group was also shown the National Statuary Hall, once the chamber of the House of Representatives, and then later a farmer's market, believe it or not! In its present capacity as the National Statuary Hall, each state is allowed to display two statues of prominent residents. Not all of the statues are in the hall - others are to be found in the corridors of the rest of the Capitol building. California's current representatives are Father Junípero Serra (pictured below in the statuary hall) and Ronald Reagan, whose statue stands back in the Rotunda:
That was it for the tour. Following lunch, we checked out the Capitol Visitor Center. Photography wasn't allowed in the Exhibition Hall, but my daughter helpfully sketched out her interpretation of the 11 foot (3.4 meters)-high model of the dome:
Taking pictures was permitted in the Emancipation Hall, where the highlights include a life-sized replica of the Statue of Freedom, and well as some state statues that have been moved there due to space limitations in the Capitol building itself:
We ended our visit by taking a walk around the outside of the building. The Library of Congress beckoned from across the street, but we'll save it for another day (though you can reach the library via an underground tunnel from the Capitol Visitor Center):
The West Front is just as impressive as the East Front, though the grounds there were closed off due to some construction, presumably preparations for January 20th's Inauguration ceremony:
Amber took in the sites of the Smithsonian Castle and the Washington Monument off in the distance:
A capital city wouldn't a worthy center of government without countless numbers of statues celebrating the actions of various national heroes, like this one honoring the Civil War general (and 18th president) Ulysses S. Grant:
Five months here, and Washington has lived up to all expectations on my part so far. The story continues...at least until February.