Washington Monument
White House
United States Treasury
National Archive
United States Capitol
Supreme Court
Jefferson Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Marine Corps Memorial / Iwo Jima
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Washington DC is by far America's most majestic city. Beauty abounds here in so many forms. It's hard to visit Washington DC without gaining inspiration at some point, and if one leaves the city without a certain pride and loyalty, I speculate one has missed the point and perhaps has not paid attention at all. Washington DC is the most magnificent city in the US in that no other city more readily and enthusiastically celebrates. . . well, celebrates America! Sure, other cities have monuments and memorials that evoke patriotism, like the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia or the Statue of Liberty in New York City, but only Washington DC is dominated by these icons. You can scarcely look anywhere in D.C. and not see some monument, or gift, or remembrance, or tribute to someone or something.

Washington is a truly remarkable city. It's only a 45-minute drive from my home in Gaithersburg, Md. and I go there often to walk, sit, think, and reflect. Washington has a special significance to me as I have been though a lot in that city; several good times, and many bad times. Since I often use the district as a sort of cathartic hideaway, I have come to associate it with a degree of depression, confusion, and remorse. When times are tough and I'm feeling sad, you will often find me there; sitting by some statuette or symbol, gazing off into God knows where, daydreaming or flashbacking, trying to think or remember or feel.

In D.C. you can do that. It's like no other city I know. Except for maybe Paris. Most cities are strewn with hundreds and thousands of skyscraping buildings jetting non-scenically into the sky above. You won't find that in Washington DC. There's a city ordinance that prohibits such Goliath structures, making for a scene that resembles more a rural theme-park than an industrial state. Supposedly, when L'EnFant laid the plans for Washington DC, he designing it in the mold of Paris, complete with grassy fields, long reflecting pools, and a sense of beauty that would be lost in an urbanized relative. Unfortunately, he never saw his brilliant plans come to pass, dying penniless and poor, in the city he loved. Some years ago, his remains were moved to a special location in Arlington National Cemetery. The new site lies on a hill across the Potomac opposite the monuments, where his grave forever gazes upon his completed vision.


The Washington Monument is "hard to miss" regardless of where one happens to be in the city. To get a better idea of the size, look at the enlarged photo in relation to the fifty flags surrounding its base. Each is about 25 feet tall.
The largest and arguably the grandest monument in Washington DC is the Washington monument. There aren't many places in the main portion of the district (at least in Northwest D.C.) where you can't catch a glimpse of the Washington monument looming somewhere in the distance. It's a marvelous site. It's the simplicity and size that grabs you. It's not nearly as impressive from a distance as it is when approached on foot. It's the scale that's alarming. Giant brick-like pieces slotted together with incredible precision rising straight to the heavens. One cannot help but wonder how the structure stays intact so strong and so unwavering. I have seen many obelisks in my day. In fact, on a tour in Munich, Germany I learned that Munich is the obelisk capitol of the world, containing more obelisks than you will find even in Egypt. Yet this particular obelisk is like no other. I guess it takes a giant monument to pay homage to a giant man. In the history of the United States, few if any can compete with George Washington.
The White House has never been one of my favorite places to hang out. In fact, I find it quite boring. I guess there's not much to do over near where the White House is located. Never less, I think I'm disinterested with the White House due to its lack of interactivity. True, it's beautiful. True, it's the home of the president. True, it's behind a huge electric gate that will shock the living daylights out of anyone who tries to climb over it. Most of the other monuments you can walk in (or at least near.) As for the White House, one can only get within a hundred yards or so and even then one has to stare at it through steel bars. It certainly takes away from the experience.

The White House is surrounded by plush gardens and beautifully manicured lawns and flowers. The White House is so popular, it even has its own zip code.

The United States Treasury : just another D.C. treasure
Right next door to the White House is the United States Department of the Treasury. This building may not be the kind of structure that grabs and holds your attention, but I still find it interesting. The US Department of the Treasury is the same building you will find on the back of a ten dollar note which should give it a certain degree of familiarity. Yet, it stands in relative obscurity among the other city buildings nearby.
By far my favorite building in all of Washington DC is the National Archive building. It lies halfway down the mall on a sidestreet between the Washington Monument and Capitol Hill. The National Archive is truly awesome. If I had to compare it to anything I had seen before, I would compare it to the Pantheon in Rome. While not as dark as the Pantheon, it has a unique look that evokes power and authority. Like it's Roman counterpart, it boldly sits in relative obscurity away from the big attractions that the masses flock to. It does however draw a decent crowd. Its vaults permanently house and protect the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights among other items of interest. These items are on display by day and are lowered into the 50-ton vault by night. Once in the vault, they are said to be protected from vandals, terrorists, and/or nuclear attack. The Magna Carta is also on indefinite loan from Great Britain.

The National Archive is impressively large. I find it's massive "boxed" structure imposing to say the least. It's even intimidating. I find it in the same vein as a huge cage. When one sees such a cage, one can't help but wonder what monstrosity it holds. I guess it makes a certain degree of sense that the most important of US documents would be presented in such a way.

The National Archive contains the United States' most important documents. The documents are so secure, England wanted in on it.


The National Archive is very BIG. In fact, I have to go all the way back to Ancient Rome to find something to compare it to, and all the way down Constitution Avenue to get the whole building in this picture


The United States Capitol building reflects beautifully on a perfect summer day
At the east end of the mall is Capitol Hill. The U.S. Capitol Building houses both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. It's another huge structure, quite typical of Washington DC. As it is with most monuments in Washington, the approach on foot is a key element as it serves to aid the appreciation of the monument. Many of the monuments are strategically found on hills and therefore are much more impressive when one strolls leisurely up to such an edifice.

The Capitol also sits behind a large reflecting pool. This is another technique used in the district to multiply the beauty of several attractions. The Capitol is a relaxing building. It reminds me of an upper-middle class man on holiday. The Capitol sits leisurely spread out on a hill, overlooking the mall area. If the Capitol had a face, I'm sure it would have a small content grin.

At a distance, It doesn't appear to be that large. Yet walking up the steps, one begins to realize that this building is monstrous. The rotunda immediately stands out as extraordinary. It looks similar to the dome in Vatican City, making me wonder if they are somehow connected. The next aspect that grabs you is the incredible length of the Capitol. Comedian Steven Wright once said, "I'm not afraid of heights, I'm afraid of widths." Well, he wouldn't fare well at the Capitol. He would be terrified.

In the summertime, it's hard to take a good photo of the Capitol from the mall-side, due to the large trees that obscure a clean view. A better, unobstructed photo can be taken from the other side of the Capitol.

The United States Capitol building is more easily photographed from the west lawn

These two photos show off the Capitol dome, one the most recognizable symbols in Washington DC.
In front of the Capitol are beautiful, large, shade trees and a grassy field perfect for a picnic blanket and a lazy afternoon nap. The squirrels here are so uninhibited, they will literally eat right out of your hands. There's a wonderful feeling of relaxation at this site, quite a contrast to the atmosphere usually found inside the Capitol on the floors of the House and Senate. That's part of the irony on the Capitol building.

I'm sure this squirrel had good breath, but was fed tic-tacs by a tourist anyway

The front of the Supreme Court building includes 15 foot wooden doors.
Across the street from the Capitol building is the Supreme Court. I can't help think of the cartoon "Superfriends" when I look at this real life "Hall of Justice." The original Supreme Court is no longer in existence. The justices used to meet in a Washington DC pub. They would sit around and hear arguments and then settle disputes when the need arose. These were during the more informal days of U.S. government. Eventually, someone put in the budget enough money to build a more permanent and dignified monument to the judicial process and it stands proudly and firmly on this site.

The Supreme Court is another very beautiful building. It's firm in its appearance, but not harsh or overbearing. A perfect fit for what it's supposed to represent. The summit of the front of the Supreme Court contains a triangular arch depicting a frieze of several judges, under which is engraved the words in bold print: "Equal Justice Under Law."

"Equal Justice under Law" adorns the frieze atop the U.S. Supreme Court
Back at the other end of the mall, south of the Washington Monument, lies a truly remarkable and beautiful monument. In case your vision is a bit blurry, it's not the planetarium from MYST; it's the Jefferson Memorial.

The Jefferson Memorial is one of the more unique monuments in Washington DC. It's a small, circular, domed building with absolutely gorgeous columns and an attractive view of the Potomac River. The Jefferson sits on the section of D.C. known as the tidal basin that contains an inlet surrounded by the world famous Washington DC cherry blossoms. It's a very quaint area known for it's simplistic beauty. It makes for a nice stroll in the evening, especially in the spring when the blossoms are in full bloom.

The Pantheon in Rome inspired the original design of the Jefferson Memorial. However, there were many objections to this early design. Many felt that a building with a closed interior and a central statue was too similar to the Lincoln Memorial, but FDR liked the design and the rest is history. Jefferson himself used the pantheonic, dome-style, architectural design at both Monticello and the University of Virginia.

The Jefferson Memorial is elevated above a staircase, which is also similar to the Lincoln Memorial nearby. The interior is a full dome with a statue of Thomas Jefferson standing and staring out at the Potomac. Four of his more notable addresses/writings are engraved on the inner walls of the memorial including one that begins, "We hold these truths to be self-evident. . ." An inscription written in a circle around the inner walls of the memorial reads, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

The Jefferson Memorial possesses a rare grace and elegance which seems to perfectly symbolize the man it aims to honor

Dozens of fabulous, ionic columns arranged in two circular rows highlight the elegance and class of the Jefferson Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial's popularity and beauty are unquestionable
The Lincoln Memorial is walking distance from the Jefferson, located near the tidal basin at the east end of the mall. Its grandeur can be especially felt as one views it when crossing the Arlington National Cemetery Bridge on their way into the city. It's for that reason alone that I always choose to enter Washington DC using that particular causeway.

The Lincoln Memorial sits behind a long, rectangular reflecting pool, which creates a most tranquil atmosphere. Thus, it's a favorite of many who seek a relaxing stroll and a personal favorite of mine at night. The Lincoln Memorial has an intriguing sharp-cornered design with the engraved names of every state along the top border. Unfortunately, the placid environment is squandered. I have never been at the Lincoln Memorial when there hasn't been a large crowd gathered by its steps. Even in the evenings well after normal tourism hours, people flock to the Lincoln in large numbers. This is due at least in part to the proximity of the Vietnam veterans' memorial and the Korean war memorial. However, it's also quite a unifying, feel-good memorial. Lincoln has come to symbolize courage, equality, and fairness among other things and the combination of strength and kindness found in the sculpture of his likeness draws people of all diversities by the hundreds. Inscribed in marble above the sculpture are the words, "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people, for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."

A view of the Lincoln Memorial as one enters the city across the Arlington National Cemetery bridge

A photo of the Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
Located less than one hundred yards from the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial. The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial hasn't touched me in the same way as other memorials have, probably because I didn't know many people who died there. I was born in 1972 and by the time I was conscious enough to understand life, the war in Vietnam was well over. Regardless of my emotional opinion, there's no denying the tremendous raw power of this memorial. Name after name, year after year, they are listed. It starts out with a trickle of names on the corners of the wall. By the time you have reached the bottom of "the wall", there are so many names that one has become lost and overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness.

The detail of these statues is incredible. The glossy finish gives the men a "sweaty appearance which seems to represent the humid climate of Vietnam. One other detail stands out for me. The left arm of the private on the right tightly grips a gun. The sculptor has masterfully molded his arm right down to the veins, which boldly captures the soldiers' intensity.

A truly thought-provoking portion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial


The detail on this sculpture
is remarkable

The Marine Corp's Memorial is a peaceful site for a picnic or nap, and a powerful site for deep reflection

Just across the Potomac, near Arlington National Cemetery is by far my favorite memorial. It stands in a grassy field well away from the more cluttered portions of the district. I’m speaking of the memorial to the marines at Iwo Jima.

Desperate to gain an advantage in the western theater during WWII, the Americans needed to capture an island to establish a base for attacks on the Japanese. Such a base on the small island of Iwo Jima would enable the U.S. to compete against the Japanese. However, taking the island would not be easy. The Japanese were heavily entrenched on the beaches and had heavily fortified positions. They possessed an elaborate interconnected network of caves, mines, and tunnels in which they hid and fought. Losses were heavy.

According to witnesses, at some point during the assault, a group of marines climbed Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi and planted a small American flag. Seeing the flag, American soldiers across the island began to shout, cheer, and burst with pride. With this newfound energy, the marines fought onward with passion and eventually were victorious in defeating the Japanese and establishing a base on the island.

After the initial flag was raised, several men were ordered to replace the flag with a much larger one, which would be more easily seen by the soldiers. It was this second flag raising which is now famous, winning a Pulitzer Prize for marine photographer Joe Rosenthal. Sculptor Felix W. de Weldon saw the photos and was inspired to create a sculpture which is what today stands at the Marine Corps memorial. The actual faces of the three surviving men who raised the flag were casted for use in the sculpture. The statue depicts six men raising the flag in the exact same positions as Rosenthal’s photo. Therefore, there should be 12 hands in the photograph (including the two hands of a private who just released the pole.) It’s rumored that in the confusion of the event, Weldon included a thirteenth hand, which symbolizes the hand of God assisting the marines in raising the flag. I could not confirm this "thirteenth hand" in person by counting the hands (there are a lot of hands concentrated in a very small area), nor could I find reference to it in biographical information.

I guess it’s the story-line, which so intrigues me. I’m always inspired by the "underdogs" who "would not be denied." I get that feeling sitting here. The Americans were up against incredible odds, but found a way to win. I can only imagine the emotions the marines were feeling when they saw that flag for the first time. In a similar way, I feel that same feeling of pride, loyalty, and patriotism when I stare at this sculpture. In fact, I’ve never left this memorial without shedding tears and I see I’m not fairing too well presently either. I’ve been here for the last hour and I’m still just as mesmerized as when I first arrived.


Enscribed in granite beneath the Iwo Jima marines, "Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue"

As sunset approaches, the Memorial to the marines at Iwo Jima provides a very dramatic silhouette.

For more quality photos of Washington D.C., try this site by Keith Stanley

If you are looking for tourism info on Washington DC - this site is excellent!!



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