US Capitol

The United States Capitol is one of the most majestically designed and meaningful of all tourist attractions in Washington DC. It has housed the Senate and House of Representatives for almost two centuries. The Washington DC capitol building is located at the eastern end of the National Mall on a plateau 88 feet above the Potomac River, with an imposing view encompassing the Capitol Reflecting Pool and other attractions in DC, namely the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. In addition to its active use by Congress, the Capitol is a museum of American art and history.

Capitol Building at Night
Capitol Building at Night

Before 1791, the federal government had no permanent site. The early Congresses convened in eight separate locations: New York City, York, Lancaster, Baltimore, Annapolis, Trenton, Princeton, and Philadelphia. The subject of a permanent capital city for the government of the United States was first raised by Congress in 1783. Built in 1793, the US Capitol has been constructed, consumed by fire, repaired, enlarged, and refurbished; today, it stands as a monument to the American people and their government.

United States Capitol
United States Capitol

Just as the American government continues to evolve, so does the Capitol in which it is housed. Currently, a new visitor center is under construction, finally begun after the events of 9/11 caused a security overhaul. The Capitol Visitor Center is intended to increase the US Capitol's usability, comfort, safety, and educational value for millions of people who visit the attractions in DC each year. Preliminary building commenced in late 2001, and involved moving the screening facilities for visitors, as well as an initiative to preserve trees. Primary construction started in summer of 2002, and the visitor center is expected to be finished by the end of 2006. The entire facility is located underground, for security, and so as to not disrupt the tranquility of the grounds surrounding the Capitol.

US Capitol
US Capitol

The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York's Central Park. In juxtaposition to the edifice's grand, classic design, the US Capitol Grounds offer almost 60 acres of natural, wooded park ambience with multitudes of cultivated flowers. Memorial trees have been planted throughout the grounds over the years, honoring leading citizens, groups, and national events. Also, the official trees of over thirty American states have been donated to the gardens at the US Capitol.

Capitol Dome
Capitol Dome

The Capitol is open to the public for guided tours only. Tours will be conducted from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, excepting Christmas and Thanksgiving. Complimentary tour tickets are distributed each day starting at 9 a.m., and can be obtained at the Guide kiosk near Independence and First, S.W. If Congress is in session, visitors may wish to make arrangements to witness government in action. The third floor of the Washington DC Capitol building allows access to the galleries from which visitors may watch the proceedings of the House and the Senate when Congress is in session. To witness a congressional session, contact your representatives or senators. International visitors may acquire tickets by showing their passports at the House or Senate appointment station on the first floor. Of all the tourist attractions in Washington DC, visiting the United States Capitol reveals the most about the workings of our government.

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