I have just returned from a few days in Washington D.C., the capital of the United States, which I visited for the first time. The decision to go to Washington was taken a bit at the last minute (I was planning to go to Japan, but after having been to Asia twice for work this fall, I decided to postpone this trip to another time). I had no specific plans before leaving, but there was one thing I absolutely wanted to do: visit the U.S. Capitol.
I’m passionate about history and politics, so I was really looking forward visiting this building, a symbol of United States legislative power. Built a few years after the signing of the American Constitution, the Capitol was to help to establish Washington as the capital of this young nation that was then the United States.
The construction of the Capitol began in 1793 and was completed in 1812. This first building did not survive long, however: it was almost entirely burned down by the British during the War of 1812. It did not deter the Americans and the rebuilding of the Capitol began just three years later. Over the years, the building has been expanded a few times.
The visit of the Capitol focuses mainly on three rooms of the building: the crypt, the rotunda and the National Statuary Hall. The crypt was originally intended to host George Washington’s remains, but he preferred to be buried on his land in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Today, it marks what is intended to be the symbolic center of the city of Washington.
The National Statuary Hall is located in the former House of Representatives (before it becomes too small and a new, larger room was built in the south wing of the building). It now hosts the national collection of statues (each state is required to provide two statues of their most illustrious representatives on the Capitol).
But the highlight of the visit is truly the rotunda. There is almost something dizzying to be under the famous dome, where several meters above our heads, George Washington sits almost like god in his Apotheosis.
E Pluribus Unum says the motto inscribed in the fresco. Out of many, one.
In fact, that’s what’s most fascinating about the Capitol. Here, the interests of such a large and diverse country are represented and fought for. Here, a country that often seems torn apart is somewhat brought together to make things move forward. It is at the Capitol that presidents are sworn in. It is also here that Americans come to pay tribute to them after their death.
The visit of the Capitol is free, but it is recommended to book your spot in advance on the website of the Capitol. The visit does not include the Senate or the House of Representatives. It is possible to attend Congress sessions, although it is a bit more complicated for non-US visitors. Check with the visitor center if there are passes available for the day (Americans can contact directly the office of their representative or senator for passes)
The Capitol is connected by a tunnel to the Library of Congress which I also highly recommend visiting. Again, the entrance to the building and the guided tours are free. And here too, the architecture and the history are just as stunning.