Washington Capitol Building: An All-Pervading Sense Of History
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Washington Capitol Building: An All-Pervading Sense Of History

The Capitol Building has an all-pervading sense of history about it, of momentous events and great political passions, which no visitor, whether American or foreign, can miss. He may even feel it under his feet as he stands on the white circle in the middle of the floor of the rotunda, for here the bodies of military leaders, senators and Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy, have lain in state.

As Washington is the main body of government of the United States, so capitol Hill is the heart. This is the place where the first stones were laid for the Capitol of the new nation, and it is still the point from which Washington measures its growth, both literally and figuratively.  Literally, the city is divided into quadrants, according to lines drawn through Capitol Hill and its streets are named in order east and west, north and south, of the Hill. Figuratively, the city draws its lifeblood from what happens on the Hill, and politics are very much the raison d'être of Washington; the speeches of Congressmen are discussed in bars and buses, the decisions of state are the staple diet of cocktail and dinner parties. 

Whatever else draws millions of people to Washington every year, is the activities of the people on the Hill which arouse the greatest interest. Dominating the Hill, with its nineteen-foot-tall Statue of Armed Freedom on the Dome soaring 287 feet above the ground, is the Capitol Building itself, where the U.S. Congress meets. Although security is considerably tighter than it was, visitors are still welcome in the Capitol building and see enough to get a good idea of how it works, whether or not Congress is in session.

Outside the building, on the East front steps, every President of the United States since Andrew Jackson has been inaugurated, each one taking an oath which has not changed since George Washington first spoke it in 1789. Great bronze doors show the way into a splendid Neo-Classical building, 19th century in style and decoration, which houses in one wing the Senate of the United States and, in the other, the House of the Representatives.

The Capitol Building has an all-pervading sense of history about it, of momentous events and great political passions, which no visitor, whether American or foreign, can miss. He may even feel it under his feet as he stands on the white circle in the middle of the floor of the rotunda, for here the bodies of military leaders, senators and Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy, have lain in state.

Above the rotunda soars the dome, with Constantino Brumidi's fresco "The Apotheosis of George Washington" supported by Victory and Liberty, at its centre. Brumidi (1805-1880) spent years decorating the walls and ceilings of many of the rooms and corridors of the Senate Wing, covering them with a riot of vividly coloured animals, birds, flowers and fruits. In recent years, the House of Representatives has undergone similar decorative treatment at the hands of Allyn Cox and his assistants, who have exchanged the democratically plain brown walls for scenes of life in the capital in the 19th century, and views of some of state capitals.

The states of the United States are also represented in the Statuary Hall, which was the meeting place of the House of Representatives until the mid-1850s. Now the hall contains portrait statues of famous sons and daughters of the various states. Among other historic rooms in the Capitol Building open to visitors, is the ground floor room which once housed the U.S. Supreme Court and, before that, the Senate.  

  

U.S. Capitol with azalea in the foreground.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2c/Capital_with_Flowers.jpg

U.S. Capitol Dome at night.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Capitol_flag.jpg

The Apotheosis of Washington, fresco of the Capitol's dome by Constantino Brumidi in 1865.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/69/Apotheosis_of_George_Washington.jpg

Capitol's rotunda. 

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/USCapitolRotunda.JPG

Capitol's Statuary Hall.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/National_Statuary_Hall_Collection.jpg

Corridors in the Capitol decorated by Brumidi.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/11/W_corr1_us_capitol.jpg

National farewell ceremonies for former President Gerald Ford at the Capitol. 

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b9/US_Navy_061230-D-1142M-001_Vice_President_Richard_Cheney_along_with_members_of_the_Senate_and_the_House_of_Representatives_honor_former_President_Gerald_R._Ford_during_national_farewell_funeral_ceremonies.jpg

Inauguration of President Lincoln. Capitol Dome is under construction.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cd/LincolnInauguration1861a.jpg

Statue of Armed Freedom, U.S. Capitol dome lantern.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Capitol_dome_lantern_Washington.jpg

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Comments (10)

A beautifully-written piece, Francois.  It was great to learn about the symbolism of the building.

I simply love the photos, let alone the good presentation.

Loving the rotunda!

I had no idea about the insides of the Capitol Building. Thanks for sharing this!

Well presented with honor and justice to this building. Years ago the founding fathers held religious ceremonies in the Capitol building.

Nice article and well researched.

It's good to learn something new again from you Francois, thank you.

Beautifully crafted arts and history of the building Francois.

Thanks so much for the information and, especially, the beautiful photos of the capitol building.

Many thanks to everyone of you for the kind comments.

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