Capitol Views #2, 3, 4, and 5

Posted by Ellen

The inner surface of the dome of the U.S. Capitol building is a fresco titled The Apotheosis of Washington, which depicts George Washington in his army uniform, seated amongst the gods of the Roman heavens, surrounded by the entire military-industrial complex.

We'll leave the details of this cartoon to another morning. Today, we want to look just beyond the outer circle of the fresco, where it is barely possible to make out the railing of a narrow balcony running all the way around the dome. If you could get up to this balcony, you could look down 180 feet to the floor of the rotunda, or you could turn around to face the outside of the dome and look out across the city.

Here's the inside view, looking down:

And here's the outside view, looking west along the mall to the Washington Monument:

To get up to this balcony, you first have to become an important person, or at least a congressional page. Then you have to navigate steep, winding metal stairs amid the ironwork that supports the dome:

The whole dome is made of iron–8.9 million pounds of iron–painted to look like the sandstone in the rest of the building. It replaced an earlier, much smaller dome made of wood sheathed in copper. When Congress approved funding for the new dome in 1854 ($100,000), construction began by setting up a crane in the middle of the rotunda, with a steam-powered engine that was fueled by burning the wood from the old dome.

The new dome took nine years to build, and then two more years to paint. Work was finished in 1865. During the project's last few years, of course, we were seriously at war with ourselves, but for whatever reason, the dome kept on rising without interruption.

In recent years, it's gotten leaky, and in 2014 the exterior of the whole dome was covered with scaffolding for a two-year roof-patching job.