Recently I have been playing a LOT of The Division 2 on my aging Xbox One, which sees you running around and restoring order to a devastated and factionally overrun Washington DC, following a deadly global biological attack. So far I’ve really enjoyed running around this virtual version of Washington DC, marveling at all the replicated big buildings and landmarks which I myself gleefully took in during my visit back in 2019 – which then immediately reminded me that I REALLY should get around to posting all those photos from the trip to this now alive again blog. So next up, my visit to the historic United States Capitol at the top of Capitol Hill.
The United States Capitol, often called The Capitol or the Capitol Building, is the meeting place of the US Congress and thus the legislative seat for the US federal government. It all began in September 1793 when George Washington laid the US Capitol cornerstone at the southeast corner of its foundation, and over the next few years construction slowly progressed on the competition winning design of Dr. William Thornton (an amateur architect) which saw a central shallow domed rotunda placed between the Senate (north) and the House (south) wings. Work progressed painfully slowly under a number of different architects, with the Senate wing only completed in 1800 and the House wing even later in 1811! Unfortunately the War of 1812 saw the British almost immediately set fire to the Capitol in 1814, but luckily a rainstorm prevented the complete destruction of this iconic building, and by 1826 the Capitol was rebuilt and finally considered complete!
Well more or less. The United States of America kept expanding in size as it gobbled up new states left, right and center, and as such the building kept needing to be enlarged. Between 1850 and 1868 the first of these enlargements was completed, and over time various functions like the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court were all moved out to their own buildings in order to deal with this ever expanding need for space. 1958 to 1962 saw yet another extension on the east central front of the Capitol, and finally 2001 to 2008 saw the completion of the impressive Capitol Visitor Center. The latter of course is what I then found myself queuing in front of on a drizzly overcast day, eagerly awaiting my turn to make it through security and sign on for one of the constant guided tours happening all around the room.
The visitor center gives you a good taste of what is to come, filled on all sides with state donated sculptures and statues of famous American politicians and heroes, as well as a close up look at the famous Statue of Freedom which adorns the top of the Capitol’s even more famous dome. Given the constant swirling mass of people walking through the US Capitol, tours are all conducted with audio pieces that are tuned in to your guide’s mic, making the tour one of the easier ones to follow given you aren’t having to strain to hear everything being said.
The tour (which does not include visiting the Senate and House Galleries – these require separate passes) starts off in the Crypt, the underground center of the Capitol whose 40 Doric columns of brown stone and groined sandstone arches support the floor of the Rotunda above. At its center sits embedded in the floor a star which denotes the point from which the streets of the original four quadrants that make up Washington DC are laid out and numbered, as well as 13 statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection to represent the 13 colonies that made up the original United States. A replica Magna Carta is also on display.
Next on the tour is the Rotunda, the large, cast-iron domed circular room located in the center of the Capitol. Following the general neoclassical style which dictates the architecture of the building itself, the impressive Rotunda is intended to recall the Pantheon, featuring curved sandstone walls, fluted Doric pilasters, and an array of incredible historical paintings depicting important scenes from both the revolutionary period as well as the age of exploration. The incredible fresco painted above on the inside of the dome is complemented by an incredible frescoed frieze that traces America’s history from Columbus to the discovery of gold in California to the birth of aviation. Finally, to cap this spectacle off, the space itself is surrounded by detailed statues and busts of many of the former presidents of the United States.
The final part of the tour then takes you to the National Statuary Hall, once the main hall of the House which is now the main exhibition space for the impressive National Statuary Hall Collection. Built in the shape of an ancient amphitheater, the hall is one of the earliest examples of Greek revival architecture in America. Encased with a massive perimeter of Breccia marble columns, the chamber is filled with all manner of statues donated by individual States, depicting a wide swathe of famous American politicians and heroes.
The tour then ends back in the Capitol Visitor Center, from where you are free to now browse the museum shop, grab a bite to eat from the official restaurant, or if you are a tourist like me, immediately waltz down through the long underground tunnel that leads you straight into the heart of the Library of Congress building across the grounds from the Capitol.