The Washington Monument, built in memory of George Washington, is the focal point of our nation’s capital and probably the world’s most famous memorial dedicated to a national hero. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the monument is its simplicity. The majestic shaft of white marble, which towers 555 feet, 5⅛ inches into the sky, has the shape of an ancient Egyptian obelisk – a four-sided pillar that gradually tapers as it rises, ending with a pyramid on top.
Construction on the monument, which is covered with Maryland marble, began in 1848. The original design by architect Robert Mills called for the obelisk’s base to be surrounded by a circular colonnade, which was never built. Delay after delay plagued the project, including the Civil War and a shortage of funds. On December 6, 1884, when workers finally set the capstone in place amid a howling wind, the Washington Monument was the tallest man-made structure on earth, a distinction it held until the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris. It is still the world’s tallest freestanding masonry structure, containing approximately 36,000 blocks of granite and marble.
Inside the monument, 897 steps lead to the top, but the stairwell is closed to the public. Instead, an elevator whisks tourists to the top for magnificent views of Washington, D.C., from eight small windows. Those who stand at the monument’s base and gaze up at the giant white pillar gleaming against a blue sky never forget the sight.