The Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg is a priceless palace of art filled with opulent décor, brilliant paintings and statues, and centuries of commonwealth history.
It's free to visit the Capitol building and take a guided tour while your expert escort points out the artistic and architectural highlights.First, a little bit of history. The Capitol building you see today was built to replace an old brick capitol building that burnt to the ground in 1897. Construction on the new Capitol occurred between 1902 and 1906 and cost $13 million. Our Capitol is considered to be the most ornate Capitol building in the United States. On October 4, 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt came to Harrisburg for the building’s dedication and was quoted, “It’s the handsomest building I ever saw.”
30-minute guided tours are offered every half hour Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 4 PM. Weekends and most holidays offer tours at 9 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM. You can schedule a tour online or call the Tour Guide Office. Groups of 10 or more need to call ahead. During regular weekdays, you can take a self-guided tour with the aid of the mobile app or a self-guided brochure. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for your visit:
Begin your tour in the breathtaking rotunda featuring a 52-million-pound dome that reaches 272 feet from floor to ceiling. The designer modeled the Capitol dome after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Atop the dome sits a 17-foot, 3-ton gilded bronze statue named Commonwealth.
The staircase is made of Italian marble and modeled after the grand staircase of the Paris Opera House. The Moravian-tile floor, known as the carpet of history, is original to the building and contains nearly 400 pictures.
Pennsylvania has 50 senators, and the Senate is presided over by the Lieutenant Governor. The desks in the chamber are the original desks, built in 1906 from mahogany from Belize. The marble around the bottom of the room is from Ireland, and the gold French velvet drapes in each window weigh 87 pounds a pair!
The painting that spans the top of the room is called International Understanding, and the figure in the middle represents unity. The four vertical images in the front of the room represent our country’s turning points including “Creation of a Nation” depicting Revolutionary War times and “Preservation of a Nation” depicting Civil War times.
Pennsylvania has 203 members of the House, presided over by the Speaker of the House. Unlike the Senate’s roll call voting, the House casts their votes electronically using a red or green button at their desk.
The marble that wraps the bottom of the room is from the Pyrenees Mountains of France. The marble was donated to the Capitol by monks. Shortly after, their quarries closed and never reopened again. The painting in the center of the room, The Apotheosis of Pennsylvania, is the largest painting in the Capitol. The circular painting in the ceiling is called The Passage of Hours featuring 24 maidens for 24 hours of the day.
The two small chandeliers weigh two tons each while the four larger ones weigh 4 and a half ton – that’s about the size of a male African elephant!
The Supreme Court in Harrisburg is one of three in the state of Pennsylvania. Seven justices sit across the front of the oldest Supreme Court in the United States.
Like the Senate and House chambers, the mahogany woodwork is original to the building. The beautiful green stained glass dome is the only one of its kind in the Capitol. Look up because the ornate chandeliers each contain a statue!
This room is filled with beautiful paintings by Violet Oakley themed with “Law.” Above the doorway, you’ll find a unique and multilayered work depicting a woman’s portrait looking back at you and the words “Love, Law And Wisdom” intricately woven into the design.
History becomes hands-on in the Capitol’s Interactive Welcome Center, open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Learn about Pennsylvania’s legislative processes then cast your vote! Stomp on trivia answers, turn wheels, pull levers, and touch screens to reveal something even Mom & Dad didn’t know about Pennsylvania!
Commemorate your trip to our commonwealth with a gift or souvenir. The gift shop is open 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM on regular weekdays. If you’ve worked up an appetite, the Capitol Restaurant by C&J Catering offers a variety of delicious food in a cafeteria style. The restaurant is open for breakfast, 7:30 AM to 10:30 AM and lunch, 10:45 AM to 3 PM.