Prestige issue 155, April 2006
Theater of major decisions, this is where the future of the world is decided
Report and photos Professor Bassam Lahoud
Federal Capital of the United States and international center of influence, Washington DC (District of Columbia), named after the first president of the US George Washington, shines with the beauty of its green spaces, its administrative buildings and prestigious historic monuments.
The White House, international political center captivates everyone’s attention
The presidential residence in the United States is a focal point that attracts attention, Washington is one of the most important, if not the most important decision capital in the world. In 1791, President Washington was allowed to choose a site to build “the residence of the president.” He entrusted this task to l’Enfant who chooses to build this imposing building in a small cove on the Potomac opening. The choice fell on the architect James Hoban who built the “White House” on the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, between 1790 and 1800. Consisting of two floors, the house was rebuilt in 1817 under the direction of Hoban, who adds terraces, and then, in 1824, the semi-circular portico on the south side and colonnades on the north side. The first occupants are President John Adams and his wife Abigail (1800). But it was President Theodore Roosevelt who officially gave the White House its current name in 1809, because its white polished stone contrasted with the brick buildings of the neighborhood. The White House has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms. There is also space for recreation, such as a tennis court, a jogging area, a swimming pool, a cinema and a bowling alley.
Economic and intellectual importance
Washington has sixteen centers of economic activity, the largest being Tysons Corner, with its postmodern buildings planted in a natural setting. The economy of the city, the headquarters of the World Bank, of course, based on the political and administrative activities, but also on real estate transactions and tourism (more than 8 million visitors per year). Intellectual center, the city occupying the entire District of Columbia (DC) on the border between Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac, west of the Chesapeake Bay, has five universities: Georgetown University, George Washington University, Catholic University of America, American University and Howard University, and scientific centers including “Carnegie Institution.”
The little capital with titanic power
Washington DC, its history
Several cities have applied in 1787 to become the federal capital of the Union. George Washington and Congress prefer a neutral district belonging to no state and between the North and South field. George Washington requests in 1791 from a French-American architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design the plans for the city. In 1800, Congress that had served in various towns settles in the district. In 1871, Georgetown, Washington City and Washington County were officially united to create Washington DC. The development of the city has accelerated during and after World War II, altering its structure but also its population. L’Enfant draws plans from European cities, including Versailles. Even today no skyscrapers can be seen altering the views of the capital, adorned with thousands of trees planted in the early XXth century. The Happy tourists of the month of April come from all corners of the States to contemplate the “cherry blossoms” (cherry) in flower, a gift from Japan to the United States. A true painting of nature in soft pink, shimmering in the calm water of the Potomac. Landscape of breathtaking beauty. The main sights of the US capital are located in the Mall, the oldest state park in the country. The administrative city boasts wide avenues and parks, especially between the Potomac River and Capitol Hill, seat of the Congress where the Senate and the House of Representatives meet, built on the plans of the British W. Thornton from 1800 and completed after 1850. The main axis of Washington is marked by the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, the height of which is the White House where the president of the United States resides, and the Mall, along which are located many museums and the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Air and Space and the prestigious National Gallery of Art. The Library of Congress, one of the largest and best organized in the world, the Supreme Court, behind the Capitol and Union Square are a must see. On the banks of the Potomac, the John F. Kennedy center with its opera theaters and shows, and on the other side of the river, around the Theodore Roosevelt island, the Pentagon, Fort Myers, the National Cemetery Arlington attract tourists by their architecture and rich history.
Prestigious locations compete
- The Kennedy Center. This huge theater that dates back to the 60’s, houses a resident opera company, under the direction of Placido Domingo.
- The Washington Monument.The visitor is surprised by this marble obelisk of 169m, memorial dedicated to George Washington, the father of the American nation. Inaugurated in 1888, it required decades of works. An elevator takes visitors to the summit, which offers stunning views over the city.
- The Ford Theatre. Opened in 1863, Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States (1861-1865) was assassinated there in 1865 by a fanatical Southern actor, John Wilkes Booth while attending the play Our American Cousin. The lodge occupied by Lincoln is preserved as it was at the time of the murder.
The National Mall
Over a large area in the center of Washington, are erected the main monuments dedicated to personalities of American history. They include: the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, the latter designed on the model of the Pantheon in Athens and within which the visitor discovers an impressive statue of Abraham Lincoln seated, while on the walls are engraved his most famous speeches.
The statue of Abraham Lincoln in the building that bears his name: Lincoln Memorial.
Headquarters of the US Army, located just across the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, this imposing building shaped like a pentagon with its five angles and five sides, houses the General Staff of the armed forces, as well as the Department of Defense.
The National Museum of Air and Space attracts millions of tourists every year
Opened in the mid 50’s, it is the most visited museum in the United States. Very popular, it shows the history of civil and military aviation from the pioneers days to the exploration of space. Albert Einstein Planetarium shows tourists the wonders of the universe on a big screen of five stories high. It includes the “Spirit of St. Louis” which is none other than Charles Lindbergh’s plane, a monoplane on which he made the nonstop crossing of the North Atlantic from America to France (5.800km in 33h30mn, on May 20-21st 1927) and the device on which the Wright brothers made the first flight in 1903.
- Other attractions of Washington, the famous National Museum of Natural History, the Corcoran Gallery of Art (1983), a superb exhibition of European and American art, “Women in the Arts”, founded in 1981, devoted exclusively to the works of women from the XVIth century to the present, the Phillips Collection of modern art and its sources with works of artists known as Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, Klee, El Greco, Cezanne, Bonnard, Mondrian and less famous artists, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, a cylindrical building that houses the European and American modern art and sculptures signed by the great Rodin exhibited in the garden. And the list goes on!
The suburbs of Washington, rich in history
The visit of Georgetown is a must for the tourist who discovers the unique character of a small town founded in 1751, by trotting day and night in the picturesque streets that do not sleep. He is attracted by the charm of Mount Vermont, the beautiful resort of George Washington. Of Georgian architecture it comprises nineteen pieces, including the library and the office where you can discover objects that belonged to the first president of the United States. Also visit the charming port of Alexandria founded by Scottish merchants in the XVIIIth century with several old buildings. An equally important discovery: the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on the banks of the Potomac, opposite Washington. Are buried particularly veterans of the US military. It includes the graves of President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline and his brother Robert. Magnificent views of the city of Washington since the memorial of American General Robert E. Lee.
The National Gallery of Art, a showcase of art and culture
Reporting to the Smithsonian Institution, this magnificent museum was opened in 1941. Designed from the collections of Dale, Kress, Mellon, Rosenwald and Widener, and dedicated to the art, it houses Italian, Flemish, Dutch, Spanish and French paintings. It is still present thanks to many bequests. Since 1978, a new wing built by Pei, features contemporary works. Collections of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts cover a wide period of the Middle Ages until the XXth century. They are rich with 108,000 works. We can find works of Giotto, Jan Van Eyck, Donatello, Botticelli, Raphael, da Vinci, Vermeer, Renoir, Monet, Degas, Manet, Courbet, Rodin, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, Van Gogh and one of the finest Rembrandt collections in the world.
© Prestige / Bassam Lahoud
Museum of Native Americans
The Smithsonian Institution
Created in 1846 through the bequest of English scientist James Smithson, it manages sixteen museums in Washington, almost all free, holding more than 141 million art works and rare objects, and the National Zoo. The Smithsonian Institution Castle, built in 1855, houses administrative offices and the tourist information center.