There are of course an abundance of amazing and grand buildings in our nation’s capital, and we saw our fare share of them during our visit. I don’t know much at all about architecture, but in my own opinion, the Library of Congress is hands down the most beautiful building in Washington D.C.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and is actually made up by 3 separate buildings. Each building is named after a President: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams. The Thomas Jefferson Building is the oldest of the three and is by far my favorite building in all of D.C. The main entrance faces the U.S. Capitol and it sits right next to the Supreme Court. Its grand exterior is full of magnificent sculptures and carvings, along with the Court of Neptune fountain at the front sure make it an impressive architectural design.
As if the facade of the building isn’t stunning enough, the elaborately decorated Great Hall is just as awe-inspiring as soon as you set foot in it. Everywhere you look, its rich interior contains beautiful artwork, paintings, sculptures, carvings on the marble halls/columns, and murals both on the walls and the ceilings, toping off with a stained glass window on the ceiling of the main hall. The decorations/designs are quite ‘busy’, however, with it being such a grand space and with the white marbles all around, it actually does not feel overwhelming.
The library offers free one-hour guided tours in the Thomas Jefferson Building on a first-come first-served basis. Their website has the specific tour times and related information. They also offer a family tour for children age 6-12 (though I do see some younger kids as well, and adults still need to accompany the children of course) at 10am on Saturdays so that was the tour we went on. The tour covered the basic history of the library and the highlights of the art and architecture of the building as the docent led the group through the library. And upon learning our kiddos are avid Percy Jackson fans, the docent added extra Greek/Roman mythology flare at the first part of the tour which I thought was really nice.
My favorite part of the tour is to see the Main Reading Room, even though it’s probably not as exciting for the children on the tour. You can’t actually enter the Main Reading Room (unless you have their reader ID/library card), but you get to see it from the Main Reading Room Overlook on the second floor. One of my favorite movie series ‘National Treasure’ was filmed here during the 2nd movie. This was the room where the President’s Book of Secrets was hidden in the movie so I was totally geeked out when I saw it. It is honestly such a beautiful place that I think I could easily camp out there all day and be motivated in getting some serious work done.
One disappointing part of this rather small Overlook area is that it is closed off with plexiglass except for one tiny opening that allows visitors to take photos of the room below. Unfortunately this made it very difficult to get a good shot of the entire room.
According to the docent (and their website), the original collection of books in the library was destroyed by the British during the war in the early 1800’s, so Thomas Jefferson sold his entire personal library of over 6,000 books to the Congress after the war to restart the library’s collection. Unfortunately, about 2/3 of these books were later destroyed by a fire in the U.S. Capitol (where the library resided at the time) in 1851, leaving about only 2000 books remained. The library staff has worked many years to try to replace almost all but about 300 books in Jefferson’s original collection. Along with the original 2000 books, they are now on displayed in the circular Thomas Jefferson’s Library exhibit.
While the Library of Congress is open to the public, you do however need to have their library card in order to access the reading rooms. Visitors who are at least 16 years old with a valid ID can obtain a library card by completing a registration process in the James Madison building. Once you have the card in hand, you can then enter the beautiful Main Reading Room to soak it all up! Do keep in mind though that only the high government officials or library staff members can actually check out books from the Library of Congress. 🤓