The United States Capitol
The Capitol is home to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, which together make up the legislative branch of the federal government. House and Senate galleries are open to all visitors, but you must obtain passes when Congress is in session (call 202-224-3121).
Because of increased security and construction of the Capitol Visitor Center, contact the U.S. Capitol Guide Service if you have any questions before your visit. Recorded information is available at 202-225-6827. Visitors are not permitted to bring certain items into the Capitol. Visit the Web site at
If you want to observe the workings of Congress from the galleries, contact your representative or senator for tickets several months ahead of time. You can also try to get them (they are very limited) by presenting acceptable ID at your senator's office on the Constitution Avenue side of the building or your representative's office on the Independence Avenue side of the building. When either the House or the Senate is in session, a flag flies over the respective side of the building.
The Capitol's east front is where most of the recent presidents have taken their oath of office. Aside from being the seat of our government, where the daily business of legislation is enacted, the Capitol building is itself a work of art, and there's much to see there. The building was designed by William Thornton and amended by Benjamin Latrobe; the cornerstone was laid by Washington in 1793. The Capitol was ready for Congress to open its first session in 1800. The Capitol was burned down by the British in 1814, and the famous dome wasn't actually added until the Lincoln administration.
As this is being written, the finishing touches are being put on the new Capitol Visitor Center that will house a variety of amenities, including an exhibition gallery, orientation theaters, a 600-seat cafeteria, gift shops, and restrooms. Scheduled completion is July 2007. It will be a welcome, secure oasis for families.The Rotunda
The Capitol's round structure, the rotunda, is covered by a dome that's 180 feet high and 96 feet wide, and it is jam-packed with more than 800 works of art and artifacts.
The rotunda also has a number of statues, including the controversial group sculpture of the three leaders of the women's suffrage movement — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott — that had been kept in the crypt until women's groups campaigned successfully to have it moved to a more prominent position in the building.
The rotunda's bronze doors are a bas relief that depict the life of Christopher Columbus. On the walls are eight giant oil paintings by John Trumbull depicting events in American history, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the presentation of Pocahontas to British royalty. On the dome's ceiling is a fresco by Constantino Brumidi, who has been called the “Michelangelo of the Capitol” for this painting,
Beyond the rotunda is the National Statuary Hall, which was the original chamber for the House of Representatives. Each state was invited to send two statues of important regional leaders, and the hall is now so full that statues spill out into adjoining halls and corridors and even show up haphazardly throughout the building.
Some of the more prominent figures whose statues are on display include Ethan Allen, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay; some of the more unusual works of art and personages that can be found elsewhere are Utah's sculpture of Philo Farnsworth, the father of television, and Colorado's painted bronze statue of Jack Swigert Jr., an
The vaulted ceilings of the first floor of the Senate wing have paintings and panels celebrating American democracy, progress, and technology painted by Brumidi. Known as the Brumidi Corridors, they are based on the loggia of the Vatican. This tradition continues throughout the halls and galleries in the House wing by other artists (after Brumidi's death) and depicts such events in American history as the Boston Tea Party, the Women's Suffrage Movement, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the burning of the Capitol in 1814. These scenes continue to the present and include a panel on the space shuttle
The south and north wings of the Capitol are the House and Senate chambers. The House of Representatives chamber is the largest legislative body in the world and the site of the president's annual state of the union address.Location and Hours
The Capitol is located at the east end of the Mall, where E and First Street intersect. The closest Metro stations are Capitol South (Orange or Blue Lines) or Union Station (Red Line).
You can visit the Capitol from 9
If you've got time, you can visit the two museums on site: the original U.S. Supreme Court chambers, which have been restored to their original appearance with red velvet upholstery (the Supreme Court moved out of the Capitol to its own building in 1935), and the old Senate chamber, also restored to its original nineteenth-century appearance.