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United States Capitol

The Capitol when first occupied by Congress, 1800.
The Capitol when first occupied by Congress, 1800.

The United States Capitol is the building which serves as home for the legislative branch of the United States government. It is located atop Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The building is characterized by a central dome (inspired as much by St Paul's Cathedral, London, as by St. Peter's, Rome) and two wings—one for each branch of Congress. The north wing is home of the Senate and the south wing is home of the House of Representatives.


History of the Capitol Building

The current building is the fourth to serve as the U.S. capitol, after the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland (17831784), Federal Hall in New York (17891790) and Congress Hall in Philadelphia (17901800).

Construction of the current Capitol building began in 1793. The Senate wing was completed in 1800, while the House wing was completed in 1811. The Capitol building held its first session of U.S. Congress on November 17, 1800. Shortly after completion, it was partially burned by the British during the War of 1812. Reconstruction began in 1815, and was completed by 1830. The architect Benjamin Latrobe is principally connected with the original construction and many innovative interior features.

The building was expanded dramatically in the 1850s. The original timber-framed dome of 1818 would no longer be appropriately scaled. Thomas U. Walter was responsible for the wing extensions and the "wedding cake" cast-iron dome, three times the height of the original dome and 30 m in diameter, which had to be supported on the existing masonry piers. Like Mansart's dome at Les Invalides (which he had visited in 1838), Walter's dome is double, with a large oculus in the inner dome, through which one views the Apotheosis of Washington painted on a shell suspended from the supporting ribs, which also support the visible exterior structure and the tholos that supports the Freedom, a colossal statue that was added to the top of the dome in 1863. The weight of the cast-iron for the dome has been published as 8,909,200 lb of iron (4,041,100 kg). For construction details, see links.

When the dome of the Capitol was finally completed, but to a significantly enlarged design than had initially been planned, its massive visual weight overpowered the proportions of the columns of the East Portico, built in 1828. The East Front of the Capitol building was rebuilt in 1904, following a design of the architects Carrère and Hastings, who also designed the Senate and House Office Buildings. An extended addition to the Capitol was constructed in 1958, but the historic Corinthian columns were rendered homeless, until landcape designer Russell Page created a suitable setting for them in a large meadow at the National Arboretum, where they are combined with a reflecting pool in an ensemble that reminds some visitors disconcertingly of Persepolis.

The Capitol Grounds

The Capitol Grounds cover approximately 274 acres, with grounds proper consisting mostly of lawns, walkways, streets, drives, and planting areas. Today's grounds were designed by noted American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who planned the expansion and landscaping performed from 1874 to 1892. In 1875, as one of his first recommendations, Olmsted proposed the construction of the marble terraces on the north, west, and south sides of the building that we see today.


The Capitol houses a variety of works of art, including the National Statuary Hall Collection, which is comprised of statues donated by the fifty states to honor persons notable in their histories.

On July 24, 1998, Russell Eugene Weston Jr. burst into the Capitol and opened fire killing two police officers. He was later ruled to be incompetent to stand trial.

Currently a multimillion dollar subterranean visitors center is being constructed. Work began in 2001 and it is expected to be completed in 2006.

The Capitol is on the back of the U.S. $50 bill.

Closeup of the capitol building (west face)
Closeup of the capitol building (west face)

See also

External links

Last updated: 06-02-2005 00:15:31
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13