In his novel Echo House, Ward Just, an alumnus of this newspaper, describes Washington as "the world's subconscious, momentous and unpredictable." This special issue is our attempt to capture in many pictures and few words this handsome and contentious city at the end of the American Century and the dawn of a new millennium.

The images herein are the work of some of the city's great photographers: from Frances Benjamin Johnston at the turn of the century, to Addison Scurlock and his sons, George and Robert, to Theodor Horydczak and Robert H. McNeill. Others are from photographers who passed through town during their celebrated careers, including: Margaret Bourke-White, Esther Bubley, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Robert Frank, Annie Leibovitz, Mary Ellen Mark, Arnold Newman and Gordon Parks. We have photos from Henri Cartier-Bresson and other members of the renowned Magnum photo cooperative, from Time-Life, the Farm Security Administration's historic project, the Library of Congress and the D.C. Public Library. We also have work from members of The Washington Post's own prize-winning photography department and from past pages of this Magazine.

We've made no attempt to be comprehensive, chronological or systematic. Instead, we looked for pictures that surprise, intrigue or delight. The result, we believe, is an impressionistic portrait of the city and its people that reveals a most familiar place in unfamiliar ways.