My European visitors are usually a little bit surprised when we tour downtown Washington and they get a first glimpse of our federal office buildings.“All of your architecture, it looks like Rome,” one of them told me, more than a little amused.
I think they’re expecting to see something a little more “American.”
But in the early days of the republic, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson helped set the tradition of looking back to antiquity for civic symbolism.
As president, Washington was responsible for planning the new federal capital along with his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. They encouraged the use of Roman architecture for all of our new buildings – including the White House and the Capitol – to link the new American republic with the ancient Roman one.
Even today, visitors can find traces of Rome throughout Washington, D.C. That symbolic link was made more official last month as the District signed a sister-city relationship with the Eternal City.
As one of the first cultural exchanges in the relationship, Rome lent Washington one of its treasures: the Capitoline Venus.