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Visiting the Jefferson Memorial
This gem on the National Mall is dedicated to the third U.S. President and author of the Declaration of Independence.
Where and what is the Jefferson Memorial?
The location and architecture of the Jefferson Memorial make it stand out among DC’s amazing array of monuments and memorials. 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 on the National Mall's 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 cherry blossom trees.
The Jefferson Memorial is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Rangers are on duty from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The most convenient way to reach the memorial is by Metrorail or Metrobus. The closest Metro station is Smithsonian, located on the Orange, Blue and Silver 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 and 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 Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.