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Visiting the Jefferson Memorial
A gem of the National Mall dedicated to the third U.S. President
Where and what is the Jefferson Memorial?
Designed by John Russell Pope in 1925, the memorial resembles the Pantheon in Rome, an adaptation of Neoclassical architecture favored by Thomas Jefferson himself. Surrounded by water, the structure is located in West Potomac Park by the Tidal Basin, a large body of water that is bordered by DC’s famous cherry blossom trees. On a moonlit night, the memorial creates a beautiful, shimmering image on the water, and in springtime, it’s joined by blooming blossoms.
The most convenient way to reach the Jefferson Memorial is by Metrorail or Metrobus. The closest Metro station is Smithsonian, located on the Orange and Blue Lines. As for the bus, take either the 32, 34 or 36 routes.
What will I see?
As philosopher and statesman, Thomas Jefferson served in many capacities during his life: lawyer, politician, scientist, linguist, meteorologist, book collector, architect, farmer, diplomat. Of course, his two most famous posts were as the third U.S. President and the writer of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. The memorial is meant to reflect his diverse and plentiful accomplishments.
The open-air, white columned structure shelters a 19-foot bronze statue of Jefferson, standing at the ready to welcome visitors. His gaze is toward the White House; the artist, Rudolph Evans, wanted the statue to represent the Age of Enlightenment, an 18th century European intellectual movement that stressed liberty and equality as natural human rights. Jefferson and his revolutionary generation fervently believed in this idea. However, Jefferson’s legacy is complicated by the fact that he was also a slave owner.
The walls of the Jefferson Memorial contain words from his various texts; one expresses his idea about the right to religious freedom, while another features the importance of changing laws to represent the changing times.
One of the memorial’s most powerful sights can be found on its southwest wall. On the left side of the Jefferson statue, you will find some of the most impactful words in the history of the United States, taken directly from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Once you have explored the Jefferson Memorial, it’s time to see the other monuments and memorials nearby. Be sure to spend time at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the FDR Memorial.