Visit Washington, DC
Visit Washington, DC
Capitol and Reflection at Night

The United States Capitol


Written by Scott Messmore
If the White House is the symbol of American power, then the U.S. Capitol is the symbol of our great democracy.

While it's a national pastime to complain about Congress, few Americans will pass

up the Capitol building during a visit to Washington D.C. Full of history and architectural beauty, visitors can sit in on live debates in the Senate and House of Representatives. Nearly five million people visit the seat of American democracy. Originally built in 1793, the Capitol houses the Legislative Branch of government with Senators and U.S. Representatives drafting and passing the nation's laws. Quite a bit of arguing can go on as well. Visitors can view some of the most beautiful art work in the United States with the murals in the Capitol Rotunda. Large statues of famous AmericansCeiling of Capitol Rotunda also grace the Capitol.

Ancient Architecture and the History of a Nation

The Capitol is a building that has seen more than its share of strife since the American Revolution, and not just amongst its elected members. Designed with ancient Rome and Athens in mind, the neoclassical building was part of the design for the National Mall by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a French engineer commissioned by Congress to design the new nation's capital city. L'Enfant chose a natural rise in the terrain to site the Capitol but wasn't selected to draft the building's plans. Dr. William Thornton, physician from Scotland, won the design contest with a plan for a domed building flanked by both
houses of the Congress. President George Washington approved of the plan and actually laid the Capitol's cornerstone himself.

Capitol Construction Delays and British Redcoats

Only partially complete due to inadequate funding and construction delays, the Capitol was occupied by the Supreme Court, Library of Congress, the District of Columbia court system and the U.S. Congress in late 1800. By 1811, both wings of the Capitol were largely complete, only to be virtually destroyed by redcoats of the British Army during the War of 1812. Congress sat in session outside from the Capitol building from 1815 to 1819 while the restoration was going on. It wasn't The Capitol Buildinguntil 1829, after further alterations and revisions to the buildings plans (President James Monroe wanted the dome higher) that the Capitol was finally finished.

Hours of Operation and Location

The Capitol looms high over the east end of the National Mall and is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Starting in March, the Capitol is open during the summer months from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Starting in September, the Capitol building is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until February. Free 30-minute long guided tours are also available for tourists during the weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturdays from 9:30 p.m. to 4The Capitol Building p.m. Visitors are free to walk around the building on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. as there is no guided tours offered that day. There are no tickets required for any of the Capitol guided tours. Visitors can easily walk to the National Archives to see the Constitution, the Lincoln and Washington Memorials or the Supreme Court.

For more information on guided tours call 202-225-6827. The Capitol switchboard can be contacted at 202-224-3121.
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Last Updated: September 23, 2015