The U.S. Capitol Building is located in Washington, D.C., at the opposite end of the National Mall. To its west are the Capitol Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument. The building covers a ground area of 4 acres and its length of roughly 750 feet. The Capitol is a majestic building with a height of 87.8 meters (288 ft), catering to its five floors and approximately 540 rooms.
It also has a dome with a diameter of 75 feet that has a 15 feet tall statue called the Statue of Freedom. Situated under the dome is a vast circular room, referred to as the Rotunda, which serves as a gallery for works of art of Americas’ important people and events in the country’s history.
Construction of the Capitol begun in 1793 after the United States Congress passed the Residence Act which paved way for Washington D.C. to be the permanent capital. In 1792, US Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and President George Washington had commissioned a design competition that would award $500 and a lot in the city to anyone who would produce the most approved plan for the building.
A Scottish trained physician won the competition although he had submitted a late entry. The word capitol has its roots in Latin, which means city on a hill. Throughout its 200 year history, the Capitol has housed the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.
The Senate and the House wings were completed in the years 1800 and 1811 respectively. While still in construction, the building was partially burned by British troops in 1814 during a war that lasted till 1815. Repairs and reconstruction of the building begun in the following year and were completed four years later, under Benjamin Henry Latrobe, a British-born American architect. The building was finished in 1826 under Charles Bulfinch, a Bostonian architect. (Reed, 45)
The architecture of the building portrays Greco-Roman influence as the Capitol was meant to symbolize the idea of democracy, which is connected with Greece, and the idea of power, which is associated with the Roman Empire. The front of the Capitol is supported by six Corinthian columns, a major component of Roman architecture.
Columns were originally used by the Greek but Romans adopted and modified them to commemorate their civilization and military success. A typical Roman Corinthian column is tall, straight and slim, topped with acanthus leaves and several scrolls. The scrolls were symbolic of civilization, and together with the acanthus leaves, were features cherished by Greco-Roman artists.
The other entrances also used the Greek Parthenon and the Roman Pantheon for inspiration for its design. The facades are made of marble and features figures of prominent people in the ancient world and the writings on both the eastern and western facade. Writings and sculptures were dominant features in Roman Pantheons.
The dome of the Capitol also resembles the Pantheon dome. The architects of the dome, paid close attention to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Pantheon in Paris and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The interior of the dome, the Rotunda, features murals (artwork painted directly on walls and ceilings) done by Constantino Brumidi, a Greek/Italian American artist. The artwork illustrates historical events and people in the United States.
The most outstanding artwork is The Apotheosis of Washington, which depicts Washington surrounded by 13 maidens and many Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. The relief sculptures in the Rotunda as well as the art in the Brumidi Corridors bear similarities with paintings and sculptures found in most European churches built during the reign of the Roman Empire.
The Capital also features a crypt beneath the Rotunda. The crypt was originally meant to be the final resting place of the first American President, George Washington. Unlike the exterior of the building, the columns in the crypt are Doric, the original Greek design. Crypts were dominant in ancient Greece and later adopted by Romans to be used as a chapel or burial vault.
The purpose of building the US Capitol crypt clearly illustrates that the architects relied a lot on Greek-Roman architecture. Furthermore, the statue on the dome (Statue of Freedom) is a female figure wearing robes holding a wreath of victory on one hand and resting her hand on a sheathed sword with her right hand. The Statue of Freedom thus bears similarity with the Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice who symbolized the fair and equal administration of law. (Silate 56)
The Capitol continues to serve its purpose as the symbol of freedom and democracy whereby every four years, a president is inaugurated at the grounds of the Capitol. It also hosts other major events such as the National Memorial Day concert and Independence Day celebrations. It still serves as the meeting point of the Senate, in the north wing, and the House of Representatives, in the south wing.
The Capitol no longer serves the Supreme Court and the chamber, referred to as the Old Supreme Court, is currently used as a meeting room, law library and storage room. The Capitol receives an estimated 4-5 million visitors from around the world per year. A Visitor Center has been set up in the underground of the east side of the complex to serve as a gathering point for tourists. The Capitol strives to preserve American history while at the same time aiming to meet modern standards. It truly is the home of American democracy.
Reed, Henry H. The United States Capitol: its architecture and decoration. New York, NY: Norton, 2005. Print
Silate, Jennifer. The United States Capitol. New York, NY: PowerKids Press, 2006. Print