So anyone can tour the U.S. Capitol if you purchase a ticket, but if you’re a U.S. citizen, it turns out you can also reach out to your Senator or Congressman and request tours of certain buildings, including the Capitol building. My Congressman set us up with one of the public group tours, as well as gallery passes to see the Senate and House chambers. Sadly, no photos are allowed in the gallery – you have to turn over your phones and all electronics, as well as go through several different types of security checkpoints – but there are no such photography restrictions while on the group tour.
The launching point of the group tours is the Capitol Visitor’s Center, which was constructed underground in front of the Capitol. Visitors can look at some of the sculptures and visit the gift shop while waiting for their tour time.
Once the tour begins, every visitor is given a headset (in order to hear their particular guide over the general din) and a badge. The tour guides then take their groups to a room under the Rotunda, which has some impressive looking columns. That room is directly above a crypt, which was originally designed/constructed for President George Washington. However, he died many years before it was constructed and his family had zero desire to move his body, so the crypt is currently only used for storage purposes.
Next, the tour continues to the Rotunda, which may be one of the most stunning rooms I’ve ever set foot in before. Literally everywhere you look is beauty. The fresco in the center of the rotunda ceiling is entitled The Apotheosis of Washington, and features the former President in the heavens. Underneath the dome is Frieze of American History – a mosaic depicting 19 scenes of American history, from Christopher Columbus and Spanish conquistadors like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, all the way to the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.
On the walls of the Rotunda are eight historical paintings – 4 depicting scenes from the American Revolution and 4 depicting scenes of exploration and colonization. Sadly I couldn’t get great pictures of those due to the number of tour groups huddled around the walls, but you can see them here if you’d like.
The last thing of note in the Rotunda are a number of statues The statues are part of the National Statuary Collection (more details on that below), and include mostly former presidents, but some notable figures, like Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr.
Following the Rotunda, the last stop of the group tour was the National Statuary Hall, which is the former home of the House of Representatives. Every State is invited to send two statues of prominent citizens of that state to be displayed in the National Statuary Hall. The statues have to either be made of marble or bronze, and they have to depict someone who is deceased. There are more statues than there is space, so any state which sends a statue of a former president has that statue displayed in the Capitol’s Rotunda. Other statues are located in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, as well as in the room below the Rotunda.