The US Capitol history
The history if the US Capitol dates back to late 18th century, when George Washington signed the Residence Act of 1790, which made Washington DC the capitol of the United States.
Pierre Charles L’Enfant was made responsible for creating a city plan for the new capital. L’Enfant chose to locate the Congress House on the crest of the hill today known as Capitol Hill, a hill he described as “a pedestal waiting for a monument”.
Thomas Jefferson insisted that the building would be called the “Capitol” instead of the “Congress House”. This due to the fact that the word Capitol is a Latin word which actually means “city on a hill”. Jefferson had his will done, which is why the building today is known as the United States Capitol.
The construction of the Capitol began in 1793, when President George Washington laid the foundation stone. The senate wing stood completed in 1800, while the House wing was completed eleven years later. By this time, the completed Capitol was only a small part of today’s building. The building was lacking its dome and it was not flanked by the outer buildings visitors can see connected to it today.
The completed building didn’t last long, as the Capitol was set on fire shortly after its completion during the War of 1812 against the British. The reparation work however went smoothly which brought the building back to its former glory.
The reparation work was followed by several expansions of the building in the mid 19th century. These expansions include the massive “wedding cake”-like dome, which shapes the Capitol and has become the trademark of the building we know today.
The architectural planning was a joint effort of several architects. The initial design was done by amateur architect William Thornton who designed it in typical neoclassical style. Thornton was inspired by the Louvre in Paris and the ancient Pantheon.
The inspiration from the latter is obvious when looking at the eastern façade with its temple like entrance. The main dome was inspired by several European churches, including the great dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Why visit the US Capitol ?
The United States Capitol is the home to both the House of Representative and the US Senate, making it one of the worlds most influential and powerful places. The magnificent building is meant to reflect this status, which many people think it does from its commanding location on top of Capitol Hill.
The United States Capitol is dominated by its large, central dome. Visitors taking a closer look at the top of the dome will see that it is crowned by a large bronze statue. This state is known as the “Statue of Freedom”.
The statue depicts a female whose right hand holds a sheathed sword and in the other a laurel wreath of victory and the shield of the United States. She stands on an iron globe encircled with one of the national mottoes; “E pluribus unum” which is Latin for “Out of many – one”.
While the outside of the Capitol is magnificent, the same is very much true for its inside. The inside holds several famous paintings depicting major events in the discovery of America and the foundation of the United States.
The inside also holds the National Statuary Hall Collection, a collection consisting of statues donated by each state of the union. Each state has donated two statues picturing notable persons in their history. Together they form an impressive gathering of some of the most important people in the history of the states.
The Capitol Visitors Center
As of December 2008, the Capitol also has a visitor center with an underground entrance on the east side of the Capitol. The main function of the visitor center is to serve as a more orderly entrance for visitors to the Capitol. The Capitol Visitor Center provides however much more than just an entrance. The center hosts a visitor’s theater, rooms for exhibits and dining and restroom facilities.
Visitors can also find a plaster cast of the Statue of Freedom down in the underground center, next to the stairs leading up to the Capital itself. The total cost for building the underground, 3-level, 54.000 m2 Capitol Visitor Center was a stunning 621 million.
A central role
The Capitol, and the surrounding Capitol Hill, is often host for political demonstrations and other major events, including presidential inaugurations held every four years. The building was ranked as number six in a survey conducted in 2007, with the objective of ranking America’s Favorite Architecture.
The list was dominated by the many monuments and memorials one can find here on the National Mall area in Washington DC, an area truly dedicated to the United States of America and its history. Many say that the Capitol, being the east-most part of the mall, is the perfect crown jewel of this magnificent area.
US Capitol location
For the exact location of the US Capitol, check out the location map to the right!