Washington, D.C - Around Town : The Mall and Federal Triangle (part 1)

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Even Washingtonians whose daily pursuits rarely take them to the Mall regard this magnificent open expanse as the heart of the city. A grassy park with carefully preserved trees, the Mall stretches 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Capitol to the east to the Potomac River, just beyond the Lincoln Memorial, to the west. Alongside and nearby are the core symbols of the city and the nation: memorials to past suffering and triumphs, the workplaces of the federal government, and the Smithsonian Institution museums, entrusted with “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The Mall also serves as a national public square – it fills to capacity for the dazzling Fourth of July celebration and fireworks display, while the Smithsonian Folklife Festival brings food, dance, storytelling, and crafts from all over the world. And the space is enlivened daily with ordinary people jogging, strolling, or just enjoying the extraordinary views.

The Federal Triangle

The area now known as the Federal Triangle was developed during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration and improved by John F. Kennedy. Before then, the three-sided site, between 6th and 14th Streets and Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues NW, was a run-down area. Its main buildings are the Federal Trade Commission, the National Archives, the Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service, the R. Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

  1. National Museum of the American Indian

    This fascinating museum enshrines 10,000 years of Native American life and culture, and acknowledges the contributions native peoples have made to the history of the Americas. The collection includes over 800,000 items, 7,000 of which are on display. Exhibits include pre-Columbian gold figurines, beadwork, textiles, and pottery from the Arctic to Patagonia. The building itself has been designed in harmony with Native American cultural beliefs. The entrance faces east to meet the morning sun, and light spills in reflecting the importance of the sun within Amerindian culture .

  2. National Gallery of Art

    Stroll through this building surrounded by illustrious artworks dating from before the Renaissance to the current day. The sculpture garden is a hit for its outdoor setting, summer jazz concerts, a winter ice-skating rink, and café.

  3. National Air and Space Museum

    The story of flight, one of the most stirring in human history, is dramatically depicted in this favorite museum, renowned for its collection of precious artifacts of the challenging experience of flying .

  4. National Museum of American History

    The story of the United States of America, from its beginnings to the present day, is told here, through public icons and examinations of the daily lives of ordinary people. The museum underwent renovation in 2008, and some of the new exhibits include The Hall of Power Machinery, the John Bull Locomotive, and the new Star-Spangled Banner Gallery. “America on the Move” draws on the museum’s unparalleled collections and looks at all the modes of transportation from 1876 to the present .

    National Museum of American History
  5. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

    The only public gallery in the city with the sole focus on modern and up-and-coming art, this museum’s holdings and exhibitions of contemporary inter national works are exceptional. The unusual circular building, designed by Gordon Bunschaft and completed in 1974, provides a striking setting for outdoor sculpture in the surrounding plaza. Another fine sculpture garden across Jefferson Drive displays more than 60 pieces of large-scale contemporary work .

    • 7th St, at Independence Ave, SW

    • Open 10am–5:30pm daily

    • Dis. access

    • Free

    Central Plaza, Hirshhorn Museum
  6. National Museum of Natural History

    A favorite with children, yet filled with fascinating displays and artifacts that appeal to everyone, the vast halls of this Smithsonian museum have everything from the tiny bones of a snake to a giant ritual statue from Easter Island. Other exhibits include the vast Mammal Hall, Pacific island canoes, fabulous gemstones, a giant squid, a scene from a Chinese opera, and an Egyptian mummy case .

    • Constitution Ave & 10th St, NW

    • Open 10am–5:30pm daily; closed Dec 25

    • Dis. access

    • Free

    Museum of Natural History
  7. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

    Among the city’s most challenging sites, this museum is both a working study center for issues relating to the Holocaust and a national memorial for the millions murdered by the World War II Nazi government. The museum is solemn and respectful while engrossing and highly informative. Free timed passes are required to view the three-story permanent exhibition; special exhibitions, including the child-oriented “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story” can be seen without passes.

    • 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW (14th St between Independence Ave & C St, SW)

    • Open 10am–5:30pm daily; closed Yom Kippur, Dec 25

    • Dis. access

    • Free

    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  8. Washington Monument

    The plain Egyptian design of this radiant spire was largely the result of congressional cost-cutting, but now it seems an inspired choice. At 555 ft (165 m), the monument, built to honor the first president of the United States, towers over everything in the neighborhood. The view from the observation platform at the top, reached by a 72-second elevator ride, is unforgettable. The new elevator on the descending trip allows visitors to see some of the many commemorative stones that have been laid in the masonry walls.

    • 15th St between Independence & Constitution Aves

    • Open 9am–5pm daily; closed Jul 4, Dec 25

    • Dis. access

    • Free

    Washington Monument
  9. Lincoln Memorial

    This imposing marble memorial honors the US president who carried the country through its most difficult era. Designed by Henry Bacon (1866–1924) and featuring a monumental 19-ft (6-m) high statue of the seated Lincoln by Daniel Chester French (1850–1931), the memorial was dedicated in 1922. The Greek architecture reflects the ideals of its time .

    • 23rd St, NW & West Potomac Park

    • Open 8am–midnight daily

    Lincoln Memorial
  10. Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial

    This stark remembrance features a black polished wall on which are carved the names of those who died during the Vietnam War. Controversial when it opened, because of its minimalism and because it failed to glorify the war, the memorial has become one of the world’s most popular. Its creator, Maya Lin, was a 21-year-old Chinese-American student when she completed the design. More traditional statues were added in 1984.

    • Constitution Ave & Henry Bacon Drive, NW

    • Open 8am–midnight daily

    • Dis. access

    • Free

    Statues, Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial
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