Atop Capitol Hill stands the majestic US Capitol Building, one of the most popular tourist stops in Washington, D.C. This is where the US Congress is housed. It is built in the Neoclassical tradition. Its huge dome is a symbol of 'grandeur, simplicity and convenience', as President George Washington put it when the first design was submitted. This grand dome (which stands at a height of 180 feet) is made of close to 9 million pounds of iron and caps a 96-foot wide hall.
The Capitol stands overlooking the Potomac River, with great views of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. It is at the National Mall's eastern end.
The area where the capitol now stands used to house a barracks, fort, hospital and bakery. This was during the Civil War. President George Washington started this project in 1793. The Capitol itself has had an eventful background since then. It has experienced fire, rebuilding, extensions and restorations.
The present US Capitol building has over 500 rooms, 800 doorways and 600 windows – the dome alone has 108 windows! Going into the Capitol, you will see the huge bronze doors that lead to the Rotunda. On these doors (standing close to 17 feet tall and weighing some 20,000 pounds) are elaborately etched images showing the significant role Christopher Columbus played in the history of America.
Inside, you will be treated to a journey that outlines the history of the country, by way of sculptures and paintings. In the rotunda, you will find eight huge oil paintings that show the unfolding of the important events in the life of the United States as a country. These include images depicting the surrender of Cornwallis in Yorktown and the presentation of the Declaration of Independence. Other paintings show Columbus' landing (1492) and the birth of the aviation age (1903). Look up at the dome and view the masterpiece by Constantino Brumidi. The fresco, entitle Apotheosis of Washington, depicts George Washington looking at the country and its progress. He is flanked by Roman gods and goddesses.
There are also sculptures of Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Revolutionary war hero Ethan Allen and suffragists Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, plus others who made a strong impact in the nation's history. There are over 90 such statues scattered along the Statuary Hall and the nearby corridors. Of special note is the bronze Statue of Freedom on top of the dome, which, at its height of close to 20 feet, towers above the rest of the sculptures.
On the first floor, you will also pass by the old Supreme Court Chamber. The chamber is shown as it was during the mid-19th century. Here, some of the nation's important legal decisions. The north and south wings of the Capitol are off-limits as it holds the Senate and House chambers. The chamber of the House of Representatives is the largest such chamber in the world. Although you are not allowed into these two wings, you still have a chance to see how Congress works by attending a session of Congress.
Please also take note that only guided tours are allowed in the Capitol. Such tours run for about 30 minutes and are free of charge.