Sights & Activities

Bask in the Brilliance of the Washington Monument

October 5, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC, USA – It’s fitting that when national parks across America went dark from the shutdown, the Washington Monument remained aglow. OK, so maybe all federal monuments were afforded that exception, but it’s hard to miss the poetry of the whole thing: this soaring obelisk, calcifying George Washington’s heroic legacy into 81,120 tons of limestone, has been a source of illumination literal and figurative since being the world’s tallest structure in 1889. Now only the tallest in the city, the tower remains a beacon through the night as well as in daytime hours. Picnickers eat in her shade, visitors marvel at her size, and schoolchildren arrive by the busload, all moved in equal supply by her powerful radiance.

The monument is awe-inspiring inside and out. Any snap-happy tourist knows of her striking aesthetics, in sheer scale if not ornamentation. Along with her conspicuous stature, the obelisk’s subtle color-blocking of oatmeal and ecru, an elegant side effect of two construction stages, lends her an imposing air of quiet, dignified stability. Buckingham Palace may have its bearskin-capped guard, but this undecorated monument stands more dramatic than any stoic soldier.

Though the Monument’s interior contains a bit more in the way of embellishment—the lobby, for instance, holds both a statue and a bas-relief of our first President—it’s also quite straightforward. Vandalism on the 897-step staircase led to its closing in 1876, but an elevator shuttles guests up 555 feet to the main attraction: the lookout, where 360° views bring a drama all their own. Due North are the White House and the Ellipse. Due East, the National World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Due South, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Due West, the sweeping façade of the U.S. Capitol.

Not all of the Washington Monument’s devotees admire her from up close and personal. Strict permit laws mean that the she’s only a distant fixture in nuptials, the great-aunt in the background of the wedding pictures. Luckily she casts just as grand an impression from near as from afar. Framed in cherry blossoms or rising from the Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting Pool, the Monument only makes other local icons look more beautiful.

Funny how good lighting has that effect.

Read more about the Washington Monument in our Washington, DC guide.

Washington Monument
The National Mall, nr. 14th St., NW (National Mall)
Washington, DC
(1) 202-426-6841

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