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U.S. Capitol

the seat of the federal government

The Capitol consists of two wings that extend north and south of a central section, with the Senate meeting in one wing and the House of Representatives in the other. The building has 175,170 square feet of usable space, encompassing approximately 540 rooms. It is 751'4" long from north to south, with a maximum east-west length of 350'. There are five levels, three of which are open to the public. The Capitol sits on 274 acres, and the Capitol Grounds also includes Congressional Office Buildings, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court building.

west view of the Capitol
west view of the Capitol

The site of the Capitol was chosen by District of Columbia planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who was fired in 1792 before submitting any plans for its construction. The basic design of the Capitol was submitted by Dr. William Thornton in a contest sponsored by District Commissioners; Thornton's plan was approved by Commissioners on April 5, 1793, and by President George Washington on July 25. Washington laid the cornerstone on September 18, 1793, and Congress, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the courts of District of Columbia moved into the still-unfinished structure in late-1800. Construction was initially supervised by James Hoban. Hoban was replaced by Benjamin Henry Latrobe in 1802, and Latrobe was succeeded by Charles Bulfinch, the first professional architect to work on the building, in 1818. The Capitol was completed in 1829.

Major Features

The Capitol was originally built with a copper-covered wooden dome, but that dome was replaced by one of cast-iron between 1855 and 1866. The current dome is topped by the Statue of Freedom, a woman wearing a headdress of eagle feathers and holding a sword and shield that stands 19-1/2 feet. The distance from the top of the statue to the ground is 288 feet.

exterior of Capitol dome, showing the Statue of Freedom
Capitol Dome

The Rotunda is the area inside the Capitol directly beneath the Dome. It is 95 feet in diameter and 183 feet high. Historic paintings hang on the lower wall, including Landing of Columbus, Baptism of Pocahontas, Declaration of Independence, and Discovery of the Mississippi. The upper wall is decorated with a frieze depicting significant events in American history. A 4,664-square-foot mural entitled The Apothesis of Washington adorns the Rotunda canopy (ceiling).

fresco inside the Capitol dome, Glorification and the Spirit of Washington, by Constantine Brumidi
Glorification and Spirit of Washington

National Statuary Hall, located in the old House of Representatives Chamber, houses two statues from each state.

For more information about the Capitol see the Architect of the Capitol website at

See Also

Pierre Charles L'Enfant
President George Washington
James Hoban

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The Robinson Library >> District of Columbia

This page was last updated on August 30, 2018.