Hey, all, today I got to go a tour of the Capitol dome...but not just around the dome and the building but up into the dome and outside of it. It was a really cool experience. A friend of mine works for a Congressman and she called me yesterday to ask if I wanted a last minute opening on the tour. I said, “Heck yes!” I wasn’t disappointed. A description and photos below.
The tour climbs up a steep stairway that runs between the outside shell and the inner dome. In the picture below you can see the black stairway that goes up the inner section. You can also see the iron of the outside shell.
It is a steep stair climb into the dome but there are several stops along the way. The original dome was constructed of wood and was much smaller than the dome today. The guide said that few people liked the original dome and there were concerns about its construction of wood (fears of fire). As more States joined the Union, it was clear a larger Capitol building would be required to house all the new Congresspeople. As the Capitol building was enlarged the decision was made to rebuild the dome to make it larger and more in proportion to the entire building. It was deemed that marble and stonework would be too heavy so the entire dome is constructed of cast iron. EVERYTHING in and on the dome is cast iron painted to look like marble or stone! I hadn't a clue. The original dome base made of stone was reused. A steam-powered crane was used to raise the cast iron pieces. Not wanting to waste any materials, the wood from the previous dome was used to fire the steam crane. Other stone pieces were recycled and used elsewhere in the Capitol building.
The Frieze of American History that rings the dome about half way up was painted by three different artists and took over 70 years to complete. The painting depicts historic moments in US history (starts with the landing of Columbus and ends with the Wright brothers). See the link for a description of the scenes.
The dome is comprised of inner and outer layers and you will see that in the embedded photos. One of the decorative facets in the dome can actually be opened so you can peek down from it (see picture).
The tour included a walk to see the painting entitled "Apotheosis of Washington"
up close and personal. Apotheosis is the raising of someone to a divine status (so the painting is about raising Washington to god status…shhh don’t tell the religious folks that we have deified Washington). Around the edge are scenes that depict various important individuals interacting with mythological characters:
• War, with Armed Freedom and the eagle defeating Tyranny and Kingly Power
• Science, with Minerva teaching Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, and Samuel F.B. Morse
• Marine, with Neptune holding his trident and Venus holding the transatlantic cable, which was being laid at the time the fresco was painted
• Commerce, with Mercury handing a bag of money to Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution
• Mechanics, with Vulcan at the anvil and forge, producing a cannon and a steam engine
• Agriculture, with Ceres seated on the McCormick Reaper, accompanied by America in a red liberty cap and Flora picking flowers.
The ceiling is over 180 ft from the floor to the top.
Can you believe this is all cast iron?
The tour culminated with a 360 view from atop the dome. It was a beautiful day so you could see well into Virginia and Maryland.
Looking out over The Mall you can see the tents up for the National Book Festival this weekend...hurray book festival! You can also see a plane coming in to land at Ronald Reagan (DCA) Airport.
And here is the picture from the floor of the Capitol to put the whole thing into perspective.
In this last picture you can just barely see the stairs running behind the windows:
This is one of the more interesting tours of DC. Other tours I would highly recommend are of the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress. I don't think most Americans know that sort of government building exists. It is beautiful and it rivals many European buildings of the same era. Another must see building is the US Botanic Garden. It is gorgeous and has an orchid room and a jungle canopy section that is fun for all ages. Around Christmas, there is a huge display including a train.