Two are the main symbols of the American power in the world, both located in Washington DC: the White House and the US Capitol, homeplace of the Congress. While foreigners are not currently allowed to visit the first one, the latter is open to international public. I visited it on July.
The address of the building is quite singular: since it is located in the middle of a roundabout where some of the main roads of the city meet, the the White House’s Pennsylvania Avenue among them, the Capitol has no house number in its address.
The building impresses the visitor with its gigantic dimension and the clearly neoclassical style: the unmistakable dome – the so called Rotunda – is crowned in this case by a statue representing Freedom: the similarity with Horatio Nelson and Napoleon, whose statues dominate London and Paris respectively, is not casual.
The modern Visitor Center welcomes the visitors in large and bright rooms, but has been severely criticized because of its lack of proper reference to the christian heritage of the US.
The actual visit only starts after a 20-minute long, rhetoric peppered movie. The visitors are then parted in several small groups, each of them guided by the Capitol’s staff. The groups merge and cross each other as in a hell circle where getting lost is easier then most are prepared for.
While visiting the rooms one can easily spot the many contradictions of this complex country. The giant picture representing the christian conversion of Pocahontas, first Native American to cross the bridge and land on the side of a completely different culture, is an heritage of an ancient dominant culture which has not yet completely died out. On the other side the celebrating statue of a Native American leader is but a faint example of the recent ‘no discrimination’ culture towards the minorities. A similar consideration applies for the statues of the African American leaders, representing a wide part of the population that is not ‘formally’ discriminated but that still does not enjoy the same life standards of the white majority.
Also attending to the Congress’ discussions is a very interesting experience: you have to pass through an additional security check but in a few minutes you will be allowed into the place where the future of the world is decided every day. Breath-taking.
It is also easy to sense the deep devotion the Americans have for some of their historic leaders: the guiding personnel will always highlight every possible reference to Washington or Lincoln, considered in some cases like modern deities.
And for a foreigner like me it is always very interesting to observe the visitors, mostly American of course. I got the impression that for many of them, living in the small anonymous towns of the boundless American territory, visiting Washington is something like a religious pilgrimage they have to complete once in a life. Their behaviour highlights deep devotion and infinite proudness while listening to the guides: every particular has to be photographed even not necessarily observed, their patriotism clearly shown by proper dressing.
That’s America, too.