Abraham Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln and the nation he fought to preserve during the Civil War (1861-1865). "In this Temple, as in the hearts of the people, for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever". These words, carved high above the massive Lincoln memorial statue, reveal the sacred nature of an otherwise secular national memorial. Forever a symbol of unity and social justice, the Lincoln Memorial inspires millions of Washington DC sightseeing visitors each year.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial
Abraham Lincoln Memorial

The Abraham Lincoln Memorial, standing at the west end of the National Mall, is a neoclassical monument built to resemble a Greek temple. It has 36 Doric columns, one for each state at the time of Lincoln's death. A sculpture by Daniel Chester French of a seated Lincoln commands the center of the memorial chamber. From his perch, Lincoln appears to be looking over the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument, a setting of intense visual power. So moving, as a symbol of freedom, that this shrine was also the setting of Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.

Lincoln Memorial Building
Lincoln Memorial Building

The Abraham Lincoln Memorial is perhaps the most deeply moving American icon celebrating democratic ideals in the world. It glorifies the colossal achievements that have kept the nation together for over two centuries. Inscribed in enormous letters on the south wall of the monument is the thought-provoking Gettysburg Address. Over that stretches a mural showing a slave being liberated by the angel of truth. This is one of two Jules Guerin paintings that grace the memorial. The other has North-South unity as its theme.

Lincoln Memorial Washington DC
Lincoln Memorial Washington DC

Modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, the Abraham Lincoln Memorial aspires to remind us of the tremendous ancient Greeks, the first modern culture to practice a form of democratic government. In addition, it serves as a national Civil War memorial, recalling the horrific violence and destruction the conflict reeked on the land and a whole American generation. The lessons it taught about our government, in its ability to weather a civil war and re-emerge a unified and improved democracy, have made the history Lincoln Memorial represents so important. The Memorial itself has become a dignified symbol of that democracy.

According to history, Lincoln Memorial planners originally intended the statue to be only ten feet high, but this was changed so the figure of Lincoln would not be dwarfed by the size of the chamber. A commission to plan a monument was first proposed in 1867, shortly after Lincoln's death. The original concept was to build 37 enormous statues of horses and people, with a central 12-foot Lincoln memorial statue. That project was never started for lack of funds. Congress approved the bill to construct this memorial in 1910. Construction began in 1914, and the memorial was opened to the public in 1922.

The Lincoln Memorial can be enjoyed during the day, of course, but is often quite crowded. Most visitors to Washington DC, as well as DC residents, agree that the best time to enjoy the tranquility and sacred ambience of this beautiful memorial space is by night.

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