Can’t Get to Rome? Try Washington, D.C.

P1000369If you have not figure out by now, we are heading to Naples and Rome.  I wish I could take you all along, but the Air BnB places do have limits.  However, if you wish to see some really amazing neo-classical architecture, and even lots of Italian Renaissance art, head over to Washington D.C. (plus, the National Gallery of Art for the Italian paintings; plus, the Women’s Museum on 12th and New York Avenue has a great exhibit with 60 paintings of the Virgin Mary, including at least 4 that we planned to see while in Rome).

P1000365Washington, D.C. whether around the Mall or along many major and minor streets, probably has more Greek and Roman style structures and architectural features than any other city that I can think of.  Yes, London has actual Roman ruins in the city center, discovered after the bombings of WWII.  Paris has versions of triumphal arches.  New York has Wall Street and the New York Public Library, with plenty of columns.

But, one characteristic of Washington, D.C. is the relative hight of the buildings.  Planning has restricted that no building be taller than the Washington Monument (oh, one of the obelisks that Augustus brought back from Egypt and put in nearly every piazza).  Thus, skyscrapers do not over-shadow the temple-like monuments (Lincoln, Jefferson, D.C. WWI veterans…), the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and National Gallery of Art, with their Pantheon facades and domes, the Capital buildings roof-line somewhat similar to St. Peter’s Basilica, or even the White House with Roman Villa features.

P1000375On a recent excursion to Washington, D.C. I practiced architectural photography to capture some of the classical styles.  I did not even go onto the obvious areas that I listed above.  We parked near the National Gallery of Art, at 3rd and Constitution Avenue, turned up Pennsylvania Avenue, then right onto 13th Street, up to New York Avenue, where the Woman’s Museum is.  On the way back, we cut over to 9th Street, where the old Woodies (department store) is to see the Roman style iron work exterior.

To bring out some of the parallels, below are a series of photos, with accompanying photos from Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum, which we will be seeing soon.  So, rather than stuff you into my suitcase, stop by Washington, D.C. the next time you cannot get to Rome.

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Okay, so the monument to General Mead (Union Civil War) is not exactly as tall and grand as Trajan’s Column, but is does have some similarities.  It is round; it commemorates victory; and, it contains a series of figures the circle around the column form depicting element of Mead’s leadership.

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If I need to say more about the similarity of the facades to the National Gallery of Art and the Pantheon, I might as well give up.  Count the number of columns.  Eight in each structure.

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The row of columns on the left are on the National Archives building.  On the right, the columns are in Italy.

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Washington, D.C.’s streets were arranged on a grid pattern, a method of city planning developed by the Romans.  Then a series of diagonal streets (those with State names) were set in place.  If you ever try to drive in D.C. you will notice that this results in many circles and squares that you have to figure out how to negotiate around, as well as getting lost on one of those diagnoal street.  But, this leaves lots of place to put commerative statues.  Many of these are riders on horseback.  Italian cities also have lots of rulers on horse back, such as the above image of Marcus Aurelius.  The orginal statue is in the Capoltine Museum, with this copy in Palazzo Senatorio.

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P1000441You probably think I’m going to compare The Golden Arches of McDonald’s to a triumphal arch.  Now, look at the building behind McD’s (which in Roman numerals would be 1150, I believe).  Notice the suggestion of columns in the window supports, going nearly to the top of the building.  But, then notice the roof line has a series of medallion type things sticking up.  The close up show that these could be either P1000453a plant leaf or a shield.  A Roman tradition was to place shields of conquered enemies over doorways and on roof tops.  The fresco from Herculaneum demonstrates this.

Another option would be the Greek and Roman taracotta tiles that secured the roof tiles in place.  Here is an example, which rather than a leaf or sheild has a face on it.



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P1000380The Navy Memorial is enclosed by a semi-circular set of buildings, much like Trajan’s Market.  The memorial is contained in the opening between the buildings, and a museum dedicated to the Navy in the lower area of the building on the right.  The rest of the buildind contain shops and businesses.  Now, look several blocks in the distance, right up the middle.  That temple like facade is the National Portrait Gallery.  Using the telephone lens, I can bring your eye right up to it.

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P1000443The iron work on the former Woodword and Lothrop Department Store building contains decorative motifs similar to many Roman frescos from Pompeii and Herculaneum.  These in turn were considered to be influenced by Nero’s Golden Palace in Rome.  Urns, curling plants, flowers, and faces adorn all of these.


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Finding a triumphal arch in Washington, D.C. takes a little more attention to detail.  On the left is one of the two entry arches to the World War II Memorial.  The shadow in the foreground is from the other arch that I am standing next to, when taking this photo.  On the right is the Arch of Titus in Rome.  By the end of the 1st century AD, there were around 100 of these arches in Roman.  To avoid building too many more, for trivial grandstanding, the Roman government required that at least 5000 enemy forces be killed in battle before the leader could put one up and march back through it.  Every time a new memorial goes up around the Mall, similar cries go up about limiting for what events or people we should build more memorials.

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If you think that classic architecture has to be on grand government and private buildings in D.C., here is a Presbyterian church, with a temple facade on its front.  Similarly, the Portunus Temple, sits quietly in the middle of a busy street intersection in Rome.

Well, we are off soon to Naples and Rome.  I doubt that I will have much time to write verbose posts while traveling.  Rather, if you can believe this, I am going to try to adopt my cousin’s style to limit myself to one photo and six words to keep you up on our daily excursions.  I can be loquacious upon my return.


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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12 Responses to Can’t Get to Rome? Try Washington, D.C.

  1. thatemily says:

    I’ve never been to Washington D.C. and really want to, your post is great! Super informative and great photos!

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Bring walking shoes. In addition to the Mall, monuments, and museums, there are lots of interesting neighborhoods to explore, and historical places in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia with a couple of hours drive. We been within traveling distance for 25 plus years, and have not run out of discoveries. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Barneysday says:

    Beautiful shots of the architecture. We’ve been there once, but did not have the time to take in all the sites you suggest. Thanks for sharing

  3. Sheryl says:

    DC is a fun city to visit. Your photos beautifully capture the city’s wonderful architecture. And, I like how the incredible Smithsonian museums are free. .

  4. Mother Suzanna says:

    Your photo safaris in DC with a photo instructor, certainly have paid off! Can[‘t wait for your 1 photo/6 words! Have a great time.

  5. Love these comparisons. Now that you’ve made your trip unnecessary, you can just relax and enjoy.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Oh, yes. We walked to a local restaurant, where the only person who spoke English was the woman at dinner a table over. We gestured at the antipasta page of the menu to tell the owner, “Bring us what you would eat… Vino, red”. He brought us a bottle of red wine (local vintage, unknown variety) that was delicious after breathing for 15 minutes, and 8 plates of appetizers (sort of tapas style). We ate, drank, ate, drank, for two hours. The bill… only E113 ($125) for 4 people. Try to feed 4 people, with wine and bottled water, in the State for for $28 per person!

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