HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — While lawmakers are making history, they are also surrounded by historical beauty.
The history begins just steps inside the State Capitol. Right beyond the entrance, former President Theodore Roosevelt attended the dedication in October 1906. He called it the most handsome building he has ever seen, and it still holds up.
“We want to make sure that when they leave here they go wow,” said Karen Viliesis, a Capitol tour guide, which she says is a dream job. “Think about it, there’s only 50 state capitols. I get to represent Pennsylvania.”
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Every tour begins in the rotunda with a gaze up to the heavens and that dizzying dome.
“Patterned after St. Peters in Vatican City, it weighs 52 million pounds made up of over 7 million bricks,” Viliesis said.
The builders certainly had a golden touch. “It’s real. 23 karat gold leaf to be exact,” Viliesis says.
The value? Now that is something you could not add up in today’s dollars. But, if you take a tour, don’t just look up.
“The floor itself is the largest piece of artwork in the Capitol. Sixteen-thousand square feet of handmade tile can you imagine?” Viliesis said. “They call it the ‘Carpet of History’ because of the mosaic pictures — 377 of them. They represent life in Pennsylvania, anything you can think of animals, insects, birds.”
Three-hundred-seventy-seven of them, and Viliesis has a favorite.
“He thought enough of the lowly housefly to include him in his 377 tile mosaics and it’s right over here,” she said pointing to the design.
From a housefly on the floor to the floor of the House, which is actually the largest room in the building.
“It’s 42 feet high. You could actually fit two full-sized basketball courts on the floor,” she said.
There are 203 House members, all of who gaze at a massive painting on the back wall. “This is the largest mural in the Capitol called the apotheosis of Pennsylvania. Twenty-eight people who were important in Pennsylvania are painted here,” she added.
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The marble is from the Pyrennes and the chandeliers weigh in t four and a half tons. “The large chandeliers have a hidden door. A person up to six feet tall can stand up inside while they clean the crystals and change all the light bulbs,” Viliesis said.
The Senate chamber is smaller than the House. Its marble is from Connemara, Ireland and all 50 mahogany desks inside are original. With mahogany being an endangered wood, Viliesis says the desks are priceless.
The chamber is also filled with stained-glass portholes, heavy and original draperies, and though the place has a masculine feel, a woman’s touch can be found in its murals.
“Violet Oakley painted the murals in this magnificent room. She was the first woman to paint, in a public building in the United States, mural-size paintings,” Viliesis explained.
This is but a small sample of the priceless things to see at the Capitol and the tour to explore more of the building is free. They do ask that you book online ahead of time and let them know you are coming.