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The Sanctum of Liberty

By August 9, 2012April 8th, 2018Photography, Travel Journal

As we approached Capitol Hill the early morning sun was now blocked by the massive US Capitol Building and its facade was taking shape. For the twenty five minutes we walked along Pennsylvania Avenue, the building was prominent on the horizon at the end of the avenue yet hidden in a wash of light. I felt relieved to finally look directly at the structure, now high overhead, free from a direct view of the sun. Back-lit, the white marble dome obstructed the rays of light now casting a perfect yellow dome-shaped silhouette against the deep blue sky. I first admired the immense scale of the structure. But it was the color that soon consumed my thoughts. Where do they get such white marble? And how do they keep it so bright? Other structures, similar in style and age, that I’ve seen in Europe, seem in constant need of deep cleansing. Their surfaces are stained black from centuries of bombardment from soot and pollutants.

I had thought I had been on a tour of the Capitol Building on a school trip. Though once I entered the remarkable rotunda I was sure I had not. The coffered dome floats high overhead, higher than I anticipated. Lifted like the lid of a jar, it is separated from its rotunda by a ring of light-flooding windows. In the bath of morning light diffused from above, the detailed textures of the white marble and brush strokes of the artwork were now visible when they were not outside. The wedding cake-like layers tell the surprisingly comprehensive history of the nation.

Down below it would never be apparent how early in the morning it was. The floor of the rotunda buzzed with tourists. They huddled, snapped photos and darted about like perfectly synchronized schools of fish. All of this was quite dangerous and the risk of collisions seemed inevitable as all had their heads tilted back and their eyes intently affixed to the lofty dome. I was surprised to not find the hoards of field-tripping children that I expected. Adults, some with children, were in their stead. They were from all walks of life and impressively quiet in the cacophonous space. In the absence of rambunctious screams I heard the murmur of some half-a-dozen languages whispered in restrained respect. The air of the womb over our heads was still and warm. And all in attendance stretched to breath it.

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