WASHINGTON

 

 

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BASIC INFORMATION

 

Washington D.C. (District of Columbia), the national capital of the U.S.A., is situated on the Potomac River about 90 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. The District of Columbia is a seat of the federal government of the United States. The city's area was originally taken from the states of Maryland and Virginia. Virginia's part was given back in 1846. It covers an area of 180 sq. km and has a population of 623 000 (the metropolitan area around 3 750 000). About 70 per cent of black and 30 per cent of white inhabitants live there.

 

 

 

 

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HISTORY

 

The District of Columbia was established by Act of Congress in 1790. The site for the capital was chosen by President Washington himself. He knew this area very well as his plantation Mount Vernon was 16 miles down the Potomac. The capital was designed by the French engineer Pierre L'Enfant. Thomas Jefferson, later the third President of the U.S.A., helped him. Although later several other architects were involved in designing the town, L'Enfant's original vision of the magnificent capital was always respected. Streets and avenues were laid out in a grid scheme. The former streets were numbered, the latter ones were named after the states of the Union. The city was divided into four quarters (Northwest NW, Southwest SW, Northeast NE, Southeast SE).

This town was first used as the seat of Congress in 1800 but it took many more years before Washington could be called a city.

In 1910 the Height Buildings Act stated that no structure could exceed 15 stories and that is why Washington remains a horizontal and spacious city. In order to solve the problem of transport, a subway system, the Metrorail, began operation in 1976.

In the 1960s and 1970s the process of protection of historic buildings began, old structures were renovated rather than demolished. At the same time increasing focus was placed on developing and maintaining the parks and green spaces for which the city is famous.

 

 

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INDUSTRY AND COMMERCE

 

The Potomac River is too shallow, the big ships can't enter the city and that is why Washington never developed into a major port. Washington's main industry has always been government. Only 5 per cent of its work force are involved in manufacturing. Washington looks and functions like a town of officers - like a white-collar town. Some 360 000 people living in the metropolitan area are employed by the Federal Government. All of them work in the federally owned buildings that occupy 40 per cent of the city's area.

In order to be near the Federal centre hundreds of national and international organizations have their offices in Washington. We can find some 150 foreign missions, embassies and consulates here and such international organizations as the World Bank. The International Monetary Fund and the Organization of American States are based here too. A number of scientific and development complexes have been built around the capital.

 

The press, the fourth estate, also has a powerful influence on the city's social and political atmosphere shaping public opinion. The Washington Post, one of the country's most influential newspapers, the USA Today, National Geographic, International Wildlife and various other major publications have their headquarters in Washington.

  

 

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TRANSPORT

 

Washington has three major airports: Washington National Airport located across the Potomac in Virginia 4.5 miles south down from Downtown; Dulles International Airport situated in Loudoun County, Virginia, 26 miles west from Downtown; and Baltimore-Washington International Airport which is located 18 miles north of Washington and 8 miles south of Baltimore. There is only one railway station here - Union Station built in 1907. Bus-service includes Greyhound-Trailways for long distances, and city buses known as Metrobus. There is also a subway system here known as the "Metro". It comprises five coloured lines: Red, Blue, Orange, Green and Yellow. There are also taxis available in Washington. But the city's principal sights are best visited on foot.

 

 

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THE SIGHTS

 

Attracted by the capital's renowned monuments and museums, nearly 20 million visitors come to the capital each year, making tourism the city's second largest industry. Most of the hotels, restaurants, museums, theatres and fascinating neighbourhoods are situated in Northwest Washington. The city's most visited areas are the following: Constitution and Independence Avenues, Pennsylvania Avenue (connecting the White House to Capitol Hill) and Massachusetts Avenue (connecting Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle and Embassy Row). Of interest to visitors are also Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue with many shops, hotels and restaurants.

Just a short drive or Metro ride away are the cobblestone streets of Old Town Alexandria, with its art galleries, boutiques and fine old homes; and Bethesda, a suburb and business/residential centre with fine restaurants and a booming nightlife.

Washington is rich in impressive government buildings such as the White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court; with inspiring monuments to such leaders as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln; and with world-class museums under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. Most key sights are located on or near the National Mall, the great grassy strip stretching from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.

 

THE WHITE HOUSE

It is the President's residence and stands on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Treasury and the Executive Office Buildings (to the north of the Washington Monument). Its address is one of the most famous addresses in the world - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Construction of the President's Palace began in 1792 and since then it has seen much reconstruction. It has been the home of America's First Families for two centuries and it has become a symbol of the United States presidency. Every president - except George Washington - has lived in Washington, D.C. - in the White House. George Washington chose the place, but when the house was finished, he was no longer the President. It was President John Adams who was the first to live here. It was in 1800.

The White House looked very different and it was not easy to live there. There were only six rooms that were lighted by candles and heated by fires in fireplaces. Even water had to be carried from half a mile away. Running water came into the White House in 1813.

Another great success came in 1877 when Alexander Graham Bell himself installed one of the first telephones. But greatest progress followed in 1891. The White House became one of the first houses in the USA with electricity. It was first painted white after the British burned it during the War of 1812. Actually it was painted white to hide smoke stains on the outside walls, and only then it became known as the White House.

In the 1940s, White House construction was considered so unsound that President Truman worried his bathtub might sink through the floor during a state reception. He moved out for the next four years while his "home" was totally reconstructed.

Gradually the White House became better, more comfortable and more famous. Even wives of Presidents, the first ladies of the USA, have played a great role in rebuilding, furnishing and organizing the different activities of the House. Its most recent makeover occurred in 1961, when Jacqueline Kennedy brought back many of the historically accurate and original furnishings that had been removed from the White House over the years. She created there a resident museum of American history, completed with many original portraits of Presidents and First Ladies, exquisite antiques and historically significant memorabilia.

 

THE CAPITOL

It is situated on Capitol Hill and has been housing the Congress of the U.S.A. since 1800. The Hill was chosen by architect L'Enfant in 1791 to site the future Congress. A hundred years later a few other buildings were added: the Library of Congress, now known as the Thomas Jefferson Building, Union Station and the City Post Office (1914) at the northern foot of Capitol Hill, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Supreme Court building and further extensions of the Capitol itself.

The Capitol is the seat of the Congress of the U.S.A. since 1800. On the top of the building, there is the bronze Statue of Freedom. The north part is the Senate wing and the south part is the House of Representatives wing. The two main rooms are the House and Senate Chambers. The current House Chamber, a richly decorated room, is dominated by a broad podium faced by seats of the 435 members of the House, which form a semi-circle (Democrats are placed to the right of the presiding Speaker of the House, Republicans to the left). The current Senate Chamber is more soberly appointed than the House Chamber. The 100 Senators are seated in a semi-circle at dark mahogany desks. Most visitors enter the 180-foot-high Rotunda.

 

THE SUPREME COURT

The Supreme Court, a white marble building, is positioned directly across the street from the Capitol and houses the highest court in the country. The Court is appointed for life by the President, with the Senate's approval.

 

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Library of Congress is the largest library in existence which contains over 100 million items including 27 million books - among them one of three existing perfect copies of Gutenberg Bible. It was established by and for Congress in 1800 but it has extended its services over the years and it now serves as the national library. The Library expanded from the original building called the Thomas Jefferson Building into two other structures, the John Adams Building (1939) and James Madison Memorial Building (1980).

 

THE MALL AND TIDAL BASIN

From the west terrace of the Capitol one can admire a remarkable view across the Mall to the Washington Monument. The mile-long tree-lined East Mall extending from the foot of Capitol Hill to 15th Street contains one of the world's densest concentration of museums. The dominating presence here is the Smithsonian Institution, which operates eight important museums on the Mall proper. The independently administered National Gallery of Art, comprising two structures, dominates on the northeast corner of the Mall. Just off the Mall are such governmental institutions as the National Archives, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the US Botanical Garden.

The portion of the Mall west of 15th Street is the setting for the nation's remarkable monuments. These three memorials command West Potomac Park and Constitution Gardens. Encircling the Tidal Basin there are the city's famous Japanese cherry trees which originated as a gift from the Mayor of Tokyo to Washington D.C. in 1912.

 

WASHINGTON MONUMENT

The Washington Monument is the tallest masonry structure in the world. It is the white marble obelisk situated in the middle of the Mall (the main street of Washington). It is a symbol of both - a man and a town - which name it bears. It is about 555 ft high and 15 ft wide at the base. Visitors cannot climb the 897 steps to the top, but an elevator makes the journey in a little over a minute.

Although a monument to George Washington was first conceived (navržený) in 1783, i.e. 16 years before his death, it was not until 65 years later that its construction was begun. Six years after that, in 1854, work on the monument stopped because of lack of finances and the coming Civil War. Another reason was an unpleasant incident involving the Pope. Pius IX sent a block of African marble from a Roman temple to be included in the monument. But this stone was stolen.

The work started again in 1876 when the government took it over. The original design of architect Robert Mills had been modified to create the more contemporary feel of the monument as it exists today. The time gap, however, left a visible mark on the structure itself. Looking upward 150 feet from the base of the monument, it is apparent that the marble stones are darker colour than those below. The stone came from the same Maryland quarry (lom), but by the time work resumed, the marble was coming from a different stratum (vrstva). The monument was opened to the public in 1888.

Breathtaking panoramas of the Washington landscape can be seen from the top of the monument. Eight small windows, two on each side of the pyramidal top of the obelisk, overlook the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial in the south, the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial in the west, the Eclipse and the White House in the north, and the Mall ending in the Capitol in the east. These views are unmatched from any other perspective. At night, the views are even more spectacular. The only disadvantage of this "expedition" is that the line of people standing in front of the monument is almost constantly incredibly long and it takes some time till you get into the monument.

  

JEFFERSON MEMORIAL

It is the 20th century adaptation of the ancient Roman Pantheon built on the south shore of the Tidal Basin in 1934, and commemorates the third President of the U.S.A. Encircled by an Ionic colonnade, the open-air interior of the monument is dominated by a 19-ft bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson holding the Declaration of Independence. The four wall panels surrounding the statues are inscribed with Jefferson's writings.

 

LINCOLN MEMORIAL

It commemorates the 16th U.S. President and was dedicated in 1922. This stately memorial was inspired by Greek architecture and has a shape of a Doric Temple, reminiscent of the Parthenon in Athens. The famous 20-ft marble statue of a seated Lincoln faces the Washington Monument and the Capitol beyond. On the south-west side of the monument, Arlington Memorial Bridge serves as a symbolical link between Lincoln and the South's great hero, Robert E. Lee, whose farm, Arlington House overlooks the Monument from the Virginia side. Along the same axis is positioned the eternal flame marking the Arlington graveside of J. F. Kennedy, the popular 20th century President with whom Lincoln is compared.

 

ARLINGTON MEMORIAL CEMETERY

It is located not far from the Lincoln Monument on the other side of Arlington Memorial Bridge. It is the country's most revered burial ground and it contains the graves of over 200, 000 military persons of every armed conflict in which the U.S.A. has participated since the Revolutionary War. Two U.S. Presidents are buried here: President W. H. Taft (1857-1930) and President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) whose simple grave is marked by an eternal flame. The grave of Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) marked by a white cross lies close to that of his older brother.

The Changing of the guard at the Tombs of the Unknowns takes place every 30 minutes during summer, every hour the rest of the year. A visitor centre has maps showing where prominent figures are buried and sells tickets to the Tourmobile, which makes loops through the grounds.

 

PENTAGON

It is the largest simple structure building in the world and lies close to Arlington Cemetery. This enormous pentagonal building houses the headquarters of the Department of Defence. Twenty-three thousand people work here.

 

 

VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL

In the northwest corner of the Constitution Gardens there is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (dedicated in 1982). It is a V-shaped wall of polished black granite. It is one of the most heart-wrenching of memorials. The wall is engraved with the names of all 58,191 American men and women who were killed or listed as missing in the Vietnam War. Directories help locate the names. Visitors often make rubbings from the engravings; some leave flowers or other tributes to the dead.

 

WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL

Washington National Cathedral. This magnificent 14th-century-style Gothic cathedral was begun in 1907 and finished 83 years later. The observatory offers wonderful views of the entire metropolitan area, and the structure itself is decorated by more than a hundred wonderful gargoyles.

 
FORD’S THEATRE

Ford's Theatre is a mid 19th-century playhouse. It has been restored to appear exactly as it did on 14 April 1865, when John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln. The theatre is a venue for plays and other shows, but visitors can follow the events of that evening if a matinee or rehearsal is not in progress. The basement-level Lincoln Museum contains the suit Lincoln was wearing and Booth's pistol. Across the street, the House Where Lincoln Died is maintained as it appeared when the president died the next morning (complete with his blood-stained pillow).

 

 

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CULTURE

 

In recent decades Washington has become a centre of performing arts and has become famous for its museums and galleries. The biggest concentration of museums can be found on the East Mall.

 

THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

The most outstanding of them is the Smithsonian Institution (established in 1846), one of the largest museums and research complexes in the world. It contains 14 museums and the National ZOO. It was founded through a bequest to the US from an English scientist named James Smithson (1765-1829), an illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland who, having no descendants, bequested his wealth to the United States to establish the institution. The collections of the Smithsonian Institution number more than 100 million objects. In addition the Institution operates six major research facilities supporting work in the arts and sciences. It also sponsors lectures, concerts, festivals and travel agendas.

The symbol of the Institution became the red sandstone Castle (1855), the building which now functions as a visitors' information centre. On the same site, in 1987, the Smithsonian Quadrangle was added, which comprises the National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery exhibiting the Arts of Asia.

The National Museum of Natural History (1911), the National Museum of American History (1964), Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (1966) and the National Portrait Gallery are some others of the most popular Smithsonian museums.

 

THE NATIONAL ZOO

National Zoological Park has 5,000 animals, most of them living in open areas resembling their native habitats. Special attractions are panda feeding, seal and sea lion training and elephant care.

Today, the White House contains even a doctor's and dentist's offices, a television studio, solarium, indoor swimming pool, a library, a cinema, a gymnasium and a nuclear bomb shelter (protiatomový kryt). The White House has 132 rooms, including living quarters (the second and the third floors), official rooms for meetings on the first floor, etc. But only five of them - the East Room, the Green Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room and State Dining Room - are open to the public, and visitors won't find the President in any of them. Neither the Oval Room nor the First Family's living quarters are included on the tour.

To the south of the White House the open expanse of ground is called the Eclipse. It has become the ceremonial grounds for the White House. The White House organizes a series of public annual events such as the Easter Egg Roll held on Easter Monday for children under eight years of age.

 

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

The National Museum of Natural History (1911) has always been popular, but this fascinating museum has taken on new appeal since Jurassic Park. The Dinosaur Hall displays the bones of the gigantic creatures that once roamed the Earth. Kids will also get a kick out of the Orkin Insect Zoo's tarantulas and additional unusual insects. Upstairs, ogle the Hope Diamond and other enormous precious stones.


THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY

The National Museum of American History is a chance for many visitors to spend days reliving the American past in this vast museum. The original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star-Spangled Banner," can be seen there.

 

THE NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM

The National Air and Space Museum commemorates human aeronautical and astronautical achievements. It is the most visited museum in the world. The glass-and-steel structure houses such historic aircraft as the Wright Brothers' 1903 flying machine, Charles A. Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 lunar command module. The Albert Einstein Planetarium demonstrates how the universe works.

 

THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART

The National Gallery of Art houses one of the world's greatest collections of Western art, dating from the Middle Ages to the present. The traditionally designed West Wing features many works by Old Masters. We can see one of the world's finest collections of the Italian Works (Raphael, da Vinci, Tizian). The dramatically modern East Wing, a creation of architect I. M. Pei, is highlighted by a huge suspended Calder mobile and a large Henry Moore bronze sculpture.

 

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART

The National Museum of American Art is only a fraction of the museum's 350,000 examples of American painting, sculpture, photographs and graphics. The collection, in the beautiful Old Patent Office Building, spans U.S. history since 1776.

 

THE U.S. HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was opened in 1993, this extraordinarily powerful museum re-creates the horrors of the Holocaust. Exhibits that may be disturbingly graphic to children are designed to be out of their view.

 

NATIONAL ARCHIVES

National Archives (1937) hold the nation's documentary treasures, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Displayed in a separate case is also a 1297 version of England's Magna Carta.

 

JOHN F. KENNEDY CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS

Among many other theatres and concert halls the most famous one is John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts situated on the Riverfront. With its opening in 1971 Washington finally began to attract an increasing number of world-class performers. There are four theatres (Eisenhower Theatre, the Terrace Theatre, the Theatre Lab), the Opera House with 2,318 seats, the Concert Hall with 2,759 seats and the American Film Institute there and the Center is also a home to the National Symphony Orchestra. The Center offers drama, concerts and dance performances.

 

THE NATIONAL THEATER

The National Theater in Pennsylvania Avenue focuses on plays and musicals. A number of private theatres, including the well-respected Arena Stage complex, offer traditional and experimental productions. There are still two other renowned theatres; historic Ford's Theatre (1863), located Downtown, where President Lincoln was shot by the actor J. W. Booth in 1865, and the highly acclaimed Wolf Trap Farm for the Performing Arts, an outdoor summer theatre in the nearby Virginia suburbs which features world-renowned dance troops and musicians.

 

 

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PARKS

 

Washington is world famous for its parks and green spaces. About 7,000 acres of the District is currently devoted to public parkland. The most attractive parks are the West and East Potomac Parks and Constitution Gardens.

 

 

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SCHOOLS

 

The oldest and best reputated of Washington's many universities and colleges are:  Georgetown University (1789), the first Catholic institution of higher education in the country, founded in the west from Downtown, in Georgetown, the quarter where Congressmen, foreign dignitaries and the capital's intelligentsia live; and George Washington University (1821) now housed in a new building at the riverfront in the west.

 

  

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SHOPPING

 

Visitors to Washington can find everything from small speciality shops and boutiques in Georgetown to famous department stores in Downtown Pennsylvania Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue and Connecticut Avenue. Some of the most exclusive malls (Watergate, Willard Collection, Mazza Gallery) house boutiques of internationally renowned designers. Galleries, antique shops and bookshops can be found in the neighbourhood of Dupont Circle and Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.

 

 

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ENVIRONS

 

There are a few places of interest outside Washington D.C. which are worth visiting, but Mount Vernon is the best known. Situated 16 miles south of Washington, George Washington's private mansion lies on a grassy slope overlooking the Potomac River. It came into the property of the Washington family in 1674 and here Washington enjoyed the life of a successful Virginia planter. The house and furnishing are authentic to Washington's final years. Washington and his wife are buried in the grounds of Mount Vernon.

 

  

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