Friday, November 6, 2009

Where History Is Made

Magnet # 85: Virginia State Capitol, Richmond

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By: Me

One important lesson I learned on my trip is that state Capitol buildings are a great place to tour. They have some of the most beautiful architecture, paintings, and statues of anywhere, often important historical events have taken place there, and, best of all, they're almost all free to tour! Yep, from what I can tell, only a few ask for donations - the rest are free. So you can enjoy all these Capitols have to show, and give your wallet a break. It's amazing, considering they also provide enthusiastic, knowledgeable guides to walk you thorough the sites. On my trip, I visited the state capitols of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia, and I was impressed by every one. Two offer tours on demand, which is really nice. Twice, it was just me and the guide, and the individualized attention was great. Really, I can't recommend these venues highly enough.

The Virginia State Capitol was the final one I saw on my trip. Unlike the others, you don't simply walk though the front door there. Visitors check in at an entrance at the foot of Shockoe Hill, then walk up through an amazing underground complex to enter the building. It was a very cool heading up through there. Tours are given on the hour, but there are displays and a gift shop to keep visitors entertained until then. It was the only state capitol I visited that had a gift shop, and, of course, I was there on Sunday, when it was closed - darn!

The site was actually designed by Thomas Jefferson, and one of his original models is on display there. It's one of only two state capitols that is an accurate copy of an ancient structure. Jefferson was familiar with Maison Carree, a Roman temple in the south of France, during his time as an ambassador there, and when the time came to design the Capitol building, it served as his inspiration. Jamestown and Williamsburg had previously served as capitols of Virginia, but it was moved to Richmond in the hopes of finding a more secure location. The State Capitol Building has stood since its completion, but there was one major calamity when a massive crowd gathered there in 1870, causing a balcony to give way onto a courtroom on the second floor, and then the courtroom collapsed 40 feet into the Hall of the House of Delegates. When the dust had settled, 62 were dead and 251 were injured. There was talk of demolishing the Capitol building after this tragedy, but cooler heads prevailed. The damage was repaired and east and west wings Jefferson had never planned were added onto the Capitol building to accommodate the growing population. The building remained mostly unchanged until 2004 through 2007, when major renovations and expansion were made there. This was when the underground complex was added. I saw that and other results of the construction during my visit, and they were definitely impressive.

One of the most interesting features about the Virginia State Capitol Building is the fact that it has no exterior dome, along with only a handful of other states. If you look at its image on my magnet, you'd think it has no dome at all. But it does. It has a stunning interior dome that is only visible from its Rotunda. It was the first interior dome ever built in the United States, and it's very impressive to stand below it and take in its grandeur and complexity.  There's a circular skylight in the center, and it's surrounded by 20 paneled strips, each decorated with a repeating design.  Our guide explained that in the past, these would have been directly painted onto the dome, but now they are produced offsite with the use of a computer and special printer and are sealed onto the dome.  This process makes repairs much easier, and it's also being utilized at the Maryland State Capitol Building.  It's interesting to see how modern technology makes its way into the most historic locations.

So if you haven't ever visited a state capitol building, give it a try sometime.  You may enjoy it more than you ever imagined.  These are places where important events in United States history have happened.  And with all of the government activities occurring in them, they are also where the future of our states, and even, to some extent, our Nation, is being shaped.

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