The central and at the same time most striking component of the Capitol is the rotunda, i.e. the round room that is located in the middle of the building and connects the north and south wings. The rotunda was inaugurated in wooden form as early as 1824 and then replaced by the current 55-meter-high dome made of cast iron as part of the first major expansion.
Particularly impressive is the fresco in the dome of the rotunda, which has a diameter of twenty meters and shows George Washington next to Victoria and Liberty (victory and freedom), surrounded by female representatives of the thirteen founding states. In the outer circle of Constantino Brumidi’s “Apotheosis of Washington”, allegories of the arts, sciences and industry are also depicted.
A little further down, below the window, there is also a 100-meter-long frieze that depicts 400 years of American history from Columbus to the Wright brothers. There are also eight large framed paintings. Four pictures depict the American independence movement and were painted by George Washington’s aide, John Trumbull. The other four history paintings are by different artists and depict the discovery and colonization of America.
Below the rotunda is the crypt with forty Doric sandstone columns that support the rotunda. It should have been the final resting place of George Washington, but this was ultimately buried in the family crypt.
Today the chamber, completed in 1827 by Charles Bulfinch, houses six statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection, such as a statue of Abraham Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum, who is also responsible for the heads of Mount Rushmore. Attentive visitors will notice that this statue is missing the left ear. A symbol of the unfinished life of the US President who was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
Also in the crypt is a marble compass that marks the center of the District of Columbia, from which the four quadrants of the planned city begin.
The Statue of Freedom
The six-meter-high symbolic female figure made of bronze, which is located on the dome of the Capitol, weighs around 6,800 kilograms and was placed there on December 2, 1863. The Statue of Freedom faces east and holds a veiled sword in its right hand and a laurel wreath and thirteen-stripe United States shield in its left. The helmet of the statue is decorated with stars and an eagle’s head. Under her feet is a cast iron globe with the motto of the United States “E pluribus unum” (One of many).
The Old Supreme Court Chamber
The “Old Supreme Court Chamber” is 23 meters long, 16 meters wide and has a semicircular ceiling. The US Supreme Court met here from 1810 to 1860, and it is one of the few rooms that survived the Capitol fire in the British-American War. In 1972 the chamber was restored to its original state. About half of the furnishings, including the judges’ desks and chairs, are still original.
The National Statuary Hall
The House of Representatives met between 1807 and 1857 in the National Statuary Hall, which was built in the form of an ancient amphitheater and is one of the earliest examples of neoclassical architecture in the USA, until it was finally able to move to the south wing.
Today it is the main showroom of the National Statuary Hall Collection, which consists of various statues of prominent figures donated to Congress by each state. Today, 35 of the statues are in the hall itself, six statues are on display in the rotunda, 13 in the crypt, 13 in the Hall of Columns and 24 in the Capitol Visitor Center. The other statues are not open to the public.
The Old Senate Chamber
In the Old Senate Chamber, which is also known as the “whispering cabinet” due to its extraordinary acoustics, the Senate met until 1859, when its meetings took place in the north wing. It then served as a room for the Supreme Court between 1860 and 1935 and was finally restored to its original state in 1976.
Visit to the Senate and House of Representatives galleries
Those who visit the Capitol also have the opportunity to watch meetings live in the galleries of the Senate and House of Representatives. Visitors from outside the United States can use the House and Senate Appointment Desks in the Visitor Center.
Safety precautions to be observed
For security reasons, various things are not allowed in the Capitol.
- all liquids and beverages
- all food
- Aerosol containers (e.g. deodorants)
- Non-aerosol sprays (excluding medical products)
- all pointed objects
- all pockets that are more than 45 cm wide, 35 cm high and 21 cm deep
- Stun guns, martial arts weapons
- Pistols, replica pistols, ammunition, fireworks
- Knives of any size
- pepper spray
In addition, the following are not allowed in the Senate and House of Representatives galleries:
- all battery-operated electronic devices, including cell phones / smartphones (except medically necessary)
- Cans and bottles
- Creams, lotions and perfumes
- Packages, briefcases, rucksacks or suitcases
- Video cameras and all types of recording equipment
All of these things can be dropped off at any of the galleries for safekeeping. Smoking is not permitted anywhere in the Capitol.
The complete list of all prohibited things can be viewed here. All visitors are required to undergo a security check.
Address, directions and opening times
- East Capitol St NE & First St SE,
- Washington, DC 20004,
- United States
Open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Boxing Day, New Years Day, and President Inauguration Day (January 20).
With the Metro
- Union Station: First Street, NW, and Massachusetts Avenue
- Capitol South: First Street between C and D Streets, SE
- Federal Center, SW: on the southwest corner of Third and D Streets, SW
- Little public parking nearby, next public parking lot at Union Station in the north of the Capitol