Editors' pick

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial photo
Michael Lutzky - The Washington Post

Editorial Review

Modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, and resembling structures that Jefferson himself built at Monticello and the University of Virginia, the Jefferson Memorial pays tribute to one of America's great statesmen and political philosophers.

The graceful domed structure was designed by John Russell Pope, architect of the National Gallery of Art, and it sits alongside the Potomac River Tidal Basin amid beautifully landscaped grounds lined with cherry trees. Groundbreaking on its construction occurred in 1938, and the memorial was dedicated by President Roosevelt on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth.

On first approach, its location seems somewhat obscure, compared with the powerful axis on which the Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial lay. But ascend the stairs to the memorial, and you discover why it is here -- the statue of Jefferson has an unimpeded view across the ellipse into the south side of the White House, and on a map the memorial forms a perfect north-south line across the Mall to the Executive Mansion.

Also striking is that despite its similarities to the Lincoln Memorial -- both are white marble structures with columns and a large statue in a central atrium -- its feeling and effect are quite different. Where the Lincoln comes across as somber and foreboding, the Jefferson feels light and airy.

Upon entering the structure, one emerges beneath a massive rotunda, in the center of which is the massive bronze statue by sculptor Rudulph Evens with the inscription: Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826. Around the rim of the dome is one of his most famous quotes, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Etched into the side walls are passages from the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson authored in 1776.

Exiting toward the Mall, the path along the Tidal Basin is lined with 600 cherry trees -- a gift from the city of Tokyo in 1912 -- which blossom each spring with spectacular pink flowers and draw throngs of visitors to the riverside.

This is also one of the nicest monuments to visit at night as its setting along the river creates a dramatic backdrop for children to romp, or to take a romantic stroll.

-- Ben Abramson (Updated March 9, 2012)

Directions/Parking: By Metro: From Smithsonian, walk west on Jefferson Drive, turn left on Raoul Wallenberg Place (15th Street), to Tidal Basin.
By car: The memorial is at the south end of 15th Street where it meets the Tidal Basin. There is limited free parking at the memorial and on the street along Ohio Drive, but pay close attention as you drive around the memorial or you could easily end up on the 14th St. Bridge heading into Virginia.

Special note: For a unique vantage point on the memorial, try renting a pedal boat. The boathouse is directly across the Tidal Basin from the memorial, and is open from March to September (for more information call 202/484-0206).