United States Capitol is on Capitol Hill, bordered e. and w. by 2nd St. S.E. and 3rd St. N.W. and n. and s. by Constitution Ave. N.W. and Independence Ave. S.W. The immediate grounds encompass 59 acres. The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center is located below the East Plaza at 1st St. and E. Capitol St. N.E., between Constitution and Independence aves.
The site for the seat of the federal government was selected by George Washington and Pierre L'Enfant; Washington laid the cornerstone on Sept. 18, 1793. This monumental building—based on Dr. William Thornton's 1792 design, with revisions and expansions by subsequent architects over a 200-year period—is 751 feet long and 350 feet wide at its widest point. It contains approximately 540 rooms.
The 19.5-foot-tall Statue of Freedom is located atop the cast-iron dome. The building's two wings, faced with marble, contain the Senate and House chambers; the central portion includes the Rotunda. National Statuary Hall, a semicircular room south of the Rotunda, was the meeting place of the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 50 years; it now holds some of the Capitol's statue collection.
The murals adorning the walls of the vaulted, ornately decorated Brumidi Corridors, on the first floor of the Senate wing, were designed by Italian artist Constantino Brumidi and overflow with classical figures and motifs, historical portraits, and representations of flora and fauna native to North America. The lunettes over the doorways feature frescoed portraits as well as historical and allegorical scenes reflecting the functions of Senate committees that met here between 1873 and 1878.
The visitor center's Emancipation Hall features expansive glass skylights framing the Capitol dome. Exhibition Hall showcases rarely seen historic documents that describe the history of Congress and the construction of the building.
One-hour Capitol tours begin at one of two orientation theaters in Emancipation Hall and include a viewing of the 13-minute film “Out of Many, One.” A tunnel connects the visitor center to the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.
Note: Capitol tours are free but require tour passes, which may be obtained in advance online, through the Office of Visitor Services or from your senators or representative by phoning his/her office or connecting from the Capitol main switchboard. The information desks located in Emancipation Hall provide a limited number of same-day passes. Go to www.visitthecapitol.gov for a list of items prohibited on tours. Visitors also may watch sessions of Congress from the House and Senate galleries; passes can only be obtained from your senators or representative. Visitors from outside the United States can inquire about gallery passes at the House and Senate appointment desks on the visitor center's upper level.
Guided tours are available. Food is available.
Hours: Visitor Center open Mon.-Sat. 8:30-4:30. Last tour begins 1 hour before closing. Outdoor tours are offered seasonally. Half-hour tours of the Brumidi Corridors are offered Mon.-Fri. at 2; no reservations are necessary, but passes are required from one of the information desks on the visitor center's lower level. House and Senate galleries open Mon.-Fri. 7-7. Tunnel open Mon.-Sat. 8:30-4. Closed Jan. 1, Inauguration Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.