US Capitol, Washington DC
US Capitol, Washington DC © Matt H. Wade

Europeans first arrived along the Potomac River in the 16th century and the area quickly became prosperous; tobacco brought vast wealth to the gentlemen planters, and the abundance of slaves gave them ample time for leisure. After the revolutionary war, Congress had to decide on the location of a new 'Federal Town': the 10 square miles (26 sq km) between Maryland and Virginia, which is now the District of Columbia, was finally selected for its strategic location between North and South, and the area has since been of massive symbolic and administrative importance to the USA.

French architect, Pierre L'Enfant, was chosen to plan the town, and as he pegged out streets 150 feet (46m) wide, and one grand avenue 400 feet (122m) wide and a mile long, the local landowners thought he'd gone mad - he was throwing away valuable land that could be used for farming! It was to take 50 years before Washington, DC (District of Columbia) took on the air and appearance of a capital city.

Today, Washington DC, with its low-profile skyline, is a city of green parks and open spaces, grand buildings, historic landmarks, marbled monuments and impressive museums, with character-filled neighbourhoods that support a thriving cultural scene. This bustling, cosmopolitan city is an international hub of power and diplomacy, commanding the political centre stage for the world's most powerful nation, and representing all the democratic ideals that the country takes pride in. Washington DC was one of the targets of the terrorist attack on the US on 11 September 2001, when a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, the heart of national security. The city has bounced back from this tragedy, however, and if anything 9/11 has bolstered patriotism in the capital.

After politics, tourism is the capital's main industry. The city plays host to millions of people annually who come to explore famous sights such as the domed US Capitol, the stately White House, Lincoln Memorial and the soaring Washington Monument. The most well-known sights are located along the National Mall, a green park stretching from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial on the Potomac River, including several memorials to great US presidents of the past, as well as the outstanding museums of the Smithsonian Institute.

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