Washington DC, A to Z: Rotunda of the Capitol

We saw many buildings in Washington DC with impressive rotundas. The most impressive one was the first one we saw, the United States Capitol Rotunda. After we toured the Capitol Visitor Center (for a description and pictures click here), we followed our tour guide into the Capitol.

The U.S. Capitol Rotunda is a large, domed, circular room in the center of the second floor of the Capitol  used for important ceremonial events, such as the lying in state of its most eminent citizens.

United State Capitol
Rotunda Canopy

The fresco  Apotheosis of Washington, painted  by Constantino Brumidi,  is in the center of the Rotunda Canopy.  Although the fresco is located 180 feet above the floor, the figures were painted in a way that makes them intelligible from close up as well as when viewed from the floor.

United State Capitol
Rotunda Canopy
detail from Apotheosis of Washington

The painting shows George Washington rising to the heavens in glory. The super hero figure at his feet (that’s how our tour guide described it) is Freedom who, accompanied by an eagle, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power. (Click here to see a very detailed photograph by the Architect of the Capitol.)

United States Capitol
Portion of Rotunda Wall beneath Canopy

The walls of the Rotunda hold historic paintings and a frescoed band, or “frieze,” depicting significant events in American history.

United States Capitol –  Rotunda Wall
Details of  Three Scenes from the
Frieze of American History

The Frieze of American History contains 19 scenes depicting significant events in American history.  It measures 8 feet 4 inches in height and approximately 300 feet in circumference. It starts 58 feet above the floor. The frieze was designed by Constantino Brumidi who in addition to painting  The Apotheosis of Washington decorated many areas throughout the Capitol.  The scenes were painted between 1878 and 1953 by three artists: Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Constaggini and Allyn Cox.

The scenes shown above are “Colonization of New England” by Filippo Costaggini, “Battle of Lexington” also by Filippo Costaggini and “The Birth of Aviation” by Allyn Cox.


Click here for much more historical information from  the Architect of the Capitol. Extensive information about the art in this room can also be found in Chapter 10 Symbolism in the Rotunda by Frances V. O’Connor,  Constantino Brumidi: Artist of the Capitol This book can be downloaded for free from the website of the U.S. Government Printing Office.

For a 360 virtual tour of the Rotunda of the Capitol click here.


The Architect of the Capitol has just begun a multi-year project to repair more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies in the Capitol Dome caused by age and weather. The Rotunda is currently closed so that safety netting can be installed.  If you want to see the Capitol Dome without it being surrounded by scaffolding, there’s a good chance you will have to postpone your trip for a few years. Click here for more information.

In addition, at any time to visit areas of the Capitol beyond the Capitol Visitor Center, you must make a reservation in advance. We made our reservations through the office of one of our Senators and started the day with breakfast at his office (for a description and pictures click here). To find out more about visiting the Capitol including various ways to make reservations, click here.

Finally, a reservation to tour the Capitol is not a guarantee that you will be able to tour the Capitol or see certain parts of the Capitol. The easiest way to find out about cancellations as soon as possible is to follow the U.S. Capitol @visitthecapitol on Twitter.

If this snowfall happened  two days later than it did,
our Capitol visitors tour would have been canceled.
Donna in Washington DC – March 5, 2014

A blanket of 3-5 inches coated the District on Monday, prompting emergency declarations, class cancellations at school systems already scrambling to make up for snow days and the shutdown of the federal government. The Washington Times 


8 thoughts on “Washington DC, A to Z: Rotunda of the Capitol

  1. Gotta love the snow! Beautiful and I remember seeing this many moons ago when I was 18 and thought this was amazing. I always marvel how these artists can paint so high up and make it look realistic due to the some shape


  2. I've trying to play catch up, Donna! Sorry for the lack of comments. Oh my goodness, these must be amazing in person! I guess it works out I can't go for another few years, hopeful when I do it will be open and net-free. I would love to visit the Rotunda 🙂


  3. Thanks so much. I doubt that there are many cities where it would be possible. This is my third year of the challenge and I wasn't going to do it again. But then I decided to make part of my vacation a challenge to get A to Z pictures.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s