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Washington: A city of history, monuments and memorials

LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 3/1/2013, 1:14 p.m.
Washington: A city of history, monuments and memorials

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Washington: A city of history, monuments and memorials

Continuing on in our Washington, D.C., series, one can hardly talk about a visit to this historic city without talking about a visit to the White House, which is relatively easy to do by simply placing a request through one's member of Congress. Inside, visitors get an up-close and personal look at the heart of our country's leadership, which is so wonderfully, and tragically, chock full of a wealth of pomp, circumstance and history throughout its hallowed halls, rooms and offices. It's interesting to note that although officially named the White House in 1901 by then President Teddy Roosevelt, the building was previously known as the "President's House," the "Executive Mansion" and the "President's Palace."

The center of the circle

As we learned in an earlier part of this series, D.C. was originally designed in a wide circle or wheel, its streets comprising spokes and its layout later encompassing four quadrants. At the center sits the U.S. Capitol, one of the most spectacular, if not the most spectacular capitol building in the nation.

A visit here starts in the massive, underground, three-level 580,000-square-foot U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, which is its own tourist attraction and location of many Senate offices. Just give to you an idea of its size, the Capitol itself is about 775,000 square feet.

If nothing else, while you're in D.C. (besides visiting the White House), I would say that a tour of the Capitol is one of the most amazing things to do in town. Whether you embark upon a guided tour or pre-arrange a staff-led tour through your congressional office (note: not all states offer staff-led tours), you will be simply awed by all the history, architecture, insights and inner workings of this magnificent place. Staff-led tours often include special passes for entrance to the Senate and House galleries when Congress is not in session.

We will never forget

Something else I love about D.C. are the memorials that commemorate so many historic figures and events in our nation's history. Whether you visit during the day or at night, you will no doubt appreciate their grandeur and significance. Highest on our list, of course, was a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the first national memorial to honor a non-president and a man of color. Located on the city's Tidal Basin, the memorial is fashioned in a crescent geometric pattern within a trilateral configuration that incorporates awe-inspiring views of the Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials. And as the 50th anniversary of King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech nears on Aug. 28, it strikes a chord that his statue is within sight of the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered that speech.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial has a commanding presence within the D.C. landscape, encapsulating the ideals of justice, hope, democracy and love, which appeared over and over in King's written and oratorical messages. Each element of the memorial--"The Mountain of Despair," "despair" being the previous state of our nation; "The Stone of Hope," the focal point of the memorial with a 30-foot, life-like statue of Dr. King; and the North and South Walls, featuring more than a dozen poignant inscriptions from King's speeches and sermons--send their own distinctive yet collectively powerful messages.