Despite being a relatively young country, the United States has the oldest democracy in the entire world. And no building is more sacred to that system of government than the Capitol, where the House of Representatives and the Senate convene to debate, pass laws, and push the interests of their constituents. Regardless of how you might feel toward the people who currently work there, the Capitol is a powerful symbol of America’s founding ideals. We couldn’t wait to tour it.
Our tour began at the offices of Senator Sherrod Brown, in the Hart Office building. One of the Senator’s aides would be acting as our tour guide, which allowed us to get through a few doors that normally closed to visitors. Alternatively, we could have taken a standard Capitol tour, but then we would have been part of a big group. This was much cooler, and we were quite pleased with an inconspicuous, private little tour with the Senator’s aide, who was delightful to talk to and spend time with.
After taking the monorail subway car from the Hart building to the Capitol itself, we started in the Emancipation Hall, named in honor of the enslaved people who largely constructed the building. This hall is the regular entry point for visits, and is filled with statues… every state has commissioned two statues for display in the Capitol, and there’s also a replica of the Statue of Victory, which sits atop the iconic dome.
Now we went straight up to the Rotunda: the massive round room found just underneath the dome. This space was breathtaking, framed by four huge paintings with colonial themes and crowned with a mural called “The Apotheosis of Washington”, which seems to depict the nation’s first president ascending to the heavens in glory. The frieze is also highly detailed, with a chronological series of events from the nation’s early days.
From here, we went to check out both the Old Supreme Court and Senate Chambers. It seems unbelievable that the US was ever so small that these little rooms might have sufficed for a government. The Old Senate Chamber is sumptuously decorated, and was in use until 1859, while the Old Supreme Court Chamber was so cozy and quiet, it must be a tempting siesta spot for harried staffers.
The Capitol is massive, obviously, and our tour couldn’t take us everywhere, but we were presented with passes to see both the House and Senate Chambers. And we were in luck, because both bodies were in session! Despite the fact that the representatives and senators weren’t discussing anything of real interest, it was incredible just to sit in these rooms and listen to democracy in action. (Unsurprisingly, we don’t have any photos to share with you from these rooms, as photos are forbidden!)
Being at the Capitol inevitably brought back to mind the insurrectionist attack of January 6, 2021, when Donald Trump incited his supporters to storm the building and prevent the certification Joe Biden’s victory. That the mob could even breach the doors seems completely surreal; the building itself feels impenetrable, almost unbelievably solid. Standing inside the Rotunda, it felt like the safest and most secure place in the world.
But despite the sturdy foundation, the 200+ years of history, and the seeming air of invulnerability, January 6th showed us that neither the Capitol nor Democracy are as indestructible as we’d like to believe. I can only hope that in another 200 years, people will still be coming here, amazed at the endurance of the Capitol, and of what it represents.
More Photos of our Capitol Tour:
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