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Map of DC (.pdf 398KB)


Seeing Washington

Historical Timeline

Historical DC

Today's DC

U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service


A place created and planned as the seat of government; a young city that powerfully evokes the past; treasury of a nation's heritage; home to hundreds of thousands of people. The nation's capital can be seen from a number of perspectives, all of which are better understood after a visit to the heart of Washington, D.C. the National Mall area. The Mall's formal structures, ceremonial spaces, and carefully planned vistas have their roots in earlier European capitals designed to showcase autocratic regimes. But these are, in Walt Whitman's words, democratic vistas, where the American people can freely assemble to play, attend cultural events, or petition the government for change. In 1933 stewardship of the Mall area passed to the National Park Service, whose rangers will help you get the most out of your visit, whether you see the President's home, ascend the Washington Monument, or just relax and enjoy the beauty of our national green.

The buildings housing the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court are here, open to everyone. Washington is also where the nation commemorates the wars the country has fought and the men and women who served and gave their lives in them. Less well known than some memorials but quite moving is the Gen. Ulysses S. Grant Memorial near the Capitol. The soldiers flanking Grant show the fear, the fatigue, the strain of battle; they give a haunting face to war. The nation's greatest presidents those to whom the nation is in debt for their leadership during the republic's formative years or during crisis are honored here: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt. Smaller, quieter places such as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and the Sewall Belmont House commemorate the struggles by African Americans and women for equality before the law. The National Archives, the Smithsonian, Washington's other great museums these are the repositories of all the nation holds significant, because it is beautiful, because it is rare, because it is instructive, or because it helps us remember.

Architecturally the buildings and monuments of Washington can be powerful, often handsome, sometimes controversial, but they are most important in what they say about us. We read in each the changing concerns, attitudes, and tastes of the culture that built them. Beyond the sites and structures, beyond the events and people they commemorate, are the truths they embody: justice, equality, courage, honor the tools of a free society. Just as the Mall is the symbolic heart of Washington, Washington is more than simply the governmental center of the United States. This city gives shape to our common heritage and to the diverse culture that is our source of renewal, making it one of those places that help define us as a people.


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