The opulent U.S. Capitol Visitors Center

The U.S. Capitol Visitors Center opened a couple years ago at a cost of over $700 million to construct the entire sub-terranean space. It is an amazing space akin to the reception of the Louvre in Paris. It uses the same materials as the Old Capitol, which is constructed of polished Virginia sandstone, flame-cut (see the shots of the lower level columns below). The space accommodates large crowds, up to 17,000 folks daily. I have not taken the actual tour in years, but recommend it highly.

Making our way upstairs to the rotunda the space continues to be awesome. The sculptures in both this space and the one below change every couple of years. Seeing statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis was a surprise. Each state can pick a new person every two years, made of either white marble or cast bronze. The newest bronze ones are Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower, both of which are not well proportioned or posed compared to the white marble specimens.

The ceiling of the rotunda has a god-like image of Washington in heaven, surrounded by the other inhabitants. He is like Zeus on Mt. Olympus.

The visitors center exhibit was designed by Ralph Applebaum & Associates. It shows the evolution of the Capitol itself in model form during each time period of its evolution. The entrance to the exhibit is quite beautiful, anchored by a model of the Capitol’s front face, with large white marble walls nearby, featuring incised quotes.

The entire space is very much like the presence of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but, in this case, conveys a civic statement instead of a religious one.

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