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The International Writers Magazine: USA Travel

Exploring the Grandeur of Washington's 'National Mall'
• Habeeb Salloum
To America's youth, Washington D.C., their country's capital, is an almost mythical city.  In a lasting fashion, the country's schools imprint its historic monuments on their young minds. 

As the young grow up, these celebrated memorials, dominating the city's skyline, shape everlastingly their ideas of Washington and its allurement.  By the time they reach adulthood, there is rarely a U.S. citizen who has not made at least one trip to that North American metropolis - the fantasy of their youthful years.             

However, a great number of visitors, once they reach this most influential of U.S. cities, rarely see and enjoy the majority of its elegant buildings and monuments.  Often their tours include only fleeting glances at some of its world's renowned structures.  Yet, most of Washington D.C.'s 259 sq km (100 sq mi), pinched between the states of Maryland and Virginia, is worth a lingering visit. 

A metropolis of majestic monuments, world-class theatres; and endless museums, parks and gardens, Washington is the heart of the nation and the most visited of America's urban centres.

To truly relish the city's most popular monuments and explore its grandeur, at least a week of walking tours is needed.  Most of the tourist sites are in the heart of the city, within walking distance from each other. 
However, if one has only a day or two days to spare, the National Mall with its surrounding monuments are the structures to explore.  Visitors can stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue, edged by grand buildings, to Capitol Hill, dominated by the gleaming white structure of the U.S. Capitol.  It stands at the east end of a broad green swath, called the ‘National Mall'- the city's longest lawn, edged by the major museums and galleries,

The Capitol looks down haughtily over a reflecting pool on whose edge stands the monument to Ulysses Grant, Civil War general and later President.  The home of the country's elected officials, the Capitol contains some of the city's most beautiful artwork, epitomized by the fresco in the centre of its grand 55 m (180 ft) high dome.
Library of Congress Edging the Capitol to the east are the Library of Congress, the world's largest library, housing 106 million items - many rare; the Jefferson Building, noted for its green dome and octagonal main reading room; the Folger Shakespeare Library, housing the world's largest collection of Shakespeareana; the Supreme Court, a majestic white-marble temple; and the palatial renovated Union Station, a masterpiece of Beaux Art style - borrowing heavily from the classical architecture of Rome.  One of the nation's busiest Amtrack railroad terminals, it is also a fine shopping and dining centre.
Skipping the Smithsonian Museum-complex, located on the edges of the National Mall, visitors should stop the Washington Monument located to the west of the National Mall.  Standing 170 m (555 ft) high the Washington Monument is the centrepiece of the Mall and the tallest masonry structure in the world.  From the top of this touring obelisk, dedicated to America's first president, the city unfolds in all its glory.
Union Station
Union Station

To the south, the Jefferson Memorial, with its classical dome, massive Ionic columns and 6 m (19 ft) high statue of the U.S.A.'s third president, gives majesty to the greenery of the edging cherry-fringed Tidal Basin.
On the western edge of the Mall is the Lincoln Memorial, built in the rectangular grandeur of Athen's Parthenon.  The massive reflecting pool over which the awe-inspiring statue of Lincoln gazes, is considered one of the most relaxing spots in the city.  From its steps, at night, the view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol is breathtaking. 

Supreme Court Supreme Court Besides its famous buildings,  museums, and monuments, the city offers numerous parks - the most important being the National Arboretum, containing all types of plants; Rose Creek Park, a cool strip of greenery jutting down the centre of Washington; and the United States Botanic Gardens, a conservatory of plants and flowers. As well, if visitors have time, the National Zoo, housing 3,000 wild animals; and the world famous White House and the Washington National Cathedral - the sixth largest Gothic cathedral in the world, beckon.
While moving around, visitors should not stray, especially at night, too far away from the tourist spots.  The city's poor run-down neighbourhoods are rife with drugs, guns and neglect.  However, if travellers keep to the tourist trails, Washington with its grand buildings and monuments becomes a tourist mecca.

© Habeeb Salloum  May 2013                                                       
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