World Facts Index > United States > Washington DC
With its impressive monuments and museums, its stately government buildings and mansions, Washington is easily recognizable as a capital city. Government is the city's economic engine. And government buildings, everything from museums to mansions, bring millions of tourists each year. Washington is the second most visited city in the
United States (after New York) and among the top travel destinations in the world. Washington, though, is more than government. It's a dynamic city with charming and vibrant neighborhoods, where you'll find lively nightlife, fabulous shopping and wonderful restaurants.
Popular with the young, hip crowd, Adams-Morgan is considered one of Washington's most colorful neighborhoods. Though it is primarily home to Latinos and West Africans, the neighborhood is brimming with people of many backgrounds. It's a great place to find ethnic restaurants, and with its mix of nationalities, Adams-Morgan is one of the
most interesting and cosmopolitan neighborhoods in the city. The cultural diversity is evident in its quirky shops and offbeat bars and clubs.
Just across the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington, Anacostia is a historic African-American neighborhood. The neighborhood, named after its Native American inhabitants, dates back to John Smith's arrival in the New World in 1607. Of particular interest are the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Woodlawn Cemetary and the
Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, a Smithsonian Museum showcasing African-American culture.
"The Hill" is known not just for the imposing U.S. Capitol, but for its interesting blend of government buildings, Victorian row houses, restaurants and shops. The Capitol dominates the neighborhood, and the U.S. Supreme Court, Library of Congress and Union Station are other prominent buildings. But you'll also find Eastern
Market, one of the city's oldest farmers' markets, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, which features theatre, chamber music, baroque opera and other performances.
Chinatown is a small neighborhood, but easily accessible by Metro or foot from downtown Washington. The neighborhood is marked by the colorful Friendship Archway, and many of the city's Asian restaurants and shops can be found here. Chinatown is the site of the popular Chinese New Year's Day parade. It's also home to the new MCI Center,
an entertainment and sports complex.
Washington's gay neighborhood is equally popular with heterosexuals looking for lively nightlife, exceptional restaurants and funky shops. With its historic town houses, art galleries and theatres, Dupont Circle is a great place to explore. At the circle, three of the District's major avenues - New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts
- converge. With its large central fountain and shade trees, the circle is a great place to sit and watch the crowds or enjoy lunch.
Once called Funkstown (after a German immigrant), Foggy Bottom appears institutional and bureaucratic; it's the home of the Department of State, the Kennedy Center, the Watergate complex and George Washington University. Foggy Bottom derived its name in a most unique way. During the late 19th century, smoke from the neighborhood factories
and the swampy air of the low ground combined to produce a permanent fog along the waterfront.
Trendy, fashionable and fun describe the atmosphere in Georgetown, Washington's oldest neighborhood. Yes, it's a neighborhood of tree-lined streets and handsome brick houses, but it's also home to Georgetown University and it's a popular place to shop, take in dinner and a movie, and, of course, enjoy the nightlife. Busy M Street is lined
with trendy boutiques and upscale stores, restaurants and bars. Expect big crowds on the weekends.
The eastern shore of the Anacostia River is home to Arena Stage, Benjamin Banneker Circle and Fountain, and L'Enfant Plaza. The waterfront runs several blocks along Maine Avenue SW with piers, sailboats, yachts, fishing boats, seafood markets and restaurants.
Alexandria & Arlington
These distinct Virginia communities across the Potomac River from Washington are very different. Alexandria's history stretches back to 1699, long before Washington was formed, to become the nation's capital. Old Town Alexandria boasts hundreds of restored buildings - homes, churches and taverns - from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Visitors can walk cobbled streets and visit clipper ships along the revitalized waterfront. Arlington, on the other hand, is clearly part of contemporary Virginia. Arlington boasts three major attractions: Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. Marines Corps War Memorial and the Pentagon. In the Rosslyn section, just across from
Georgetown, is the Newseum, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the news business.
History of Washington DC
It should come as no surprise that Washington, America's foremost city of politics, owes its existence to political compromise.
Washington did not exist as either a city or a capital at the close of the American Revolution. The newly formed federal government endured a nomadic existence, setting up headquarters in eight locations, most notably New York City and Philadelphia. A weary Congress wanted a home of its own and voted in 1785 to create a permanent
federal city. Divisions arose when the northern states wanted a northerly location, preferring a site along the Delaware River, and the southerners wanted the capital farther south, along the Potomac River. Eventually, they compromised. If the northern states agreed to establish the capital on the Potomac, the federal government would
assume the war debts of the colonies. Thus, Washington was created.
To establish the new nation's capital, Virginia and Maryland donated land to create the District of Columbia. The site, at the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, was selected by the first president, George Washington. The new federal city was close to his estate, Mount Vernon, on the Potomac, and near Georgetown, Maryland,
an important tobacco market. The new federal enclave included Georgetown and another thriving community, Alexandria, Virginia.
George Washington enlisted Pierre-Charles L'Enfant, a French engineer who had served in the American Revolution, to create the capital. L'Enfant looked to Versailles for inspiration, and created a magnificent city with ceremonial circles and squares, wide boulevards and streets in a grid-like fashion. He also laid plans for the Mall.
His efforts were not without controversy, however. Many early Washington families didn't want to give up land for such wide roads, and they raised fears about the federal government encompassing so much territory. Though L'Enfant's vision wasn't entirely realized, he left his mark on the city.
Before the end of the century, construction had begun on the White House and the U.S. Capitol, but, in 1800, Washington had just 3,000 inhabitants and was largely considered wilderness. The capital was temporarily abandoned in 1814, when the British invaded and ordered the burning of the city. Though the invasion had little impact on
the War of 1812, it solidified Washington as the nation's capital in the eyes of many Americans. Afterward, the city grew slowly. Early visitors were impressed by its wide avenues, but noted the roads seemed to lead nowhere and were void of houses, public buildings and people. The Civil War and successive wars changed that; Washington
flourished. Thousands of new residents flocked to the city, sparking building booms in all directions. During the decade after the Civil War, roads were paved, and, in the 1880s, streetcars began traversing city streets. By the turn of the century, the city's population had swollen to 300,000.
City of Monuments
Though construction of the Washington Monument begun in the mid-1800s, it wasn't until the 20th century that Washington truly emerged as a city of monuments and memorials. The Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial were built during the first decades of the new century. The Federal triangle, where thousands of government workers
pass their days, also was created. The Pentagon 'the massive military office complex' was completed in 1943. In the last several years, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial were added to the Mall.
Throughout the latter 20th century, Washington has been the site of inspiration and turmoil. Who can forget Martin Luther King's stirring "I have a dream" speech delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Later in the decade came the massive protest demonstrations against the Vietnam War. In the 1970s,
Watergate, the apartment-hotel-office complex, became a household name after the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters by aides to Republican President Richard M. Nixon, who eventually resigned in the wake of the scandal.
At the start of a new century, Washington remains one of the most visited and most beautiful cities in the world. Visitors come to see the monuments and memorials, and revel in the nation's history. It's more than a city of government and politics; it's a city of distinctive, historical neighborhoods. It's an ever-changing, modern city
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