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U.S. Capitol Building

Located at the Eastern end of the National Mall, the United States Capitol Building is the center around which Pierre L’Enfant designed the layout of the streets around Washington, D.C. In this building, the seat of the U.S. Federal Government meets, including the U.S. Congress. The building sits on Capitol Hill overlooking the National Mall. This building was called the “capitol” instead of “congress” building because the word “Capitolia” is associated with the Roman citadel, similar to the Greek Acropolis, which is an area built upon the elevated ground and the nucleus of a city. In 1793 Thomas Thornton won a competition hosted by Thomas Jefferson, and approved by George Washington, for the design of the capitol building. The original design was modified several times by various architects to represent what it is today with the Parthenon like pillars, a large dome, and House and Senate wings. 

The U.S. Congress held its first session in the Capitol Building in 1800. During the war of 1812, the Capitol Building was partially burned by British troops and had to be reconstructed. In 1850 two new wings were added because of the growing number of admitted states and their representatives. During this renovation, the Capitol Building more than doubled in size and the original wooden dome was replaced with the modern cast-iron dome that is there today. Inside the Capitol Building, there are a variety of paintings, friezes, and sculptures featuring U.S. history, Greek mythology, and presidential paintings. The Capitol Building also hosts the National Statuary Hall Collection, with two statues donated by each of the fifty states, each representing historical persons related to their state. In the main Rotunda Hall, under the dome, is the Crypt, looking down on the final resting place of George Washington’s tomb (though he was buried at Mt. Vernon). The Crypt has an exhibit on the history of the Capitol Building. There is also a Hall of Columns on the House side of the Capitol Building with 28 columns and statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection. Visitors can take a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol Building and learn more about the building, its grounds, and rich history at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center.


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