The National Mall: sacred ground of American democracy.
Since its foundation in 1791, the National Mall has represented values such as democracy, equality and freedom, which have been embedded in American history through the Constitution.
The original concept of the Mall came from a French engineer called Pierre l’Enfant. He was commissioned by President Washington in 1791 to design a plan for the country’s central government in Washington D.C., capital city of the United States of America. L’Enfant imagined an avenue bordered by trees, embassies and gardens with a canal coursing in front of the Capitol and connected to the River Anacostia. Later on, with the outbreak of the Civil war in 1861, Washington turned into a busy national centre. However, the construction of the Washington Monument, one of the National Mall’s main buildings, came to a standstill due to political issues and lack of funds. The work only resumed in 1902, when a senate commission wrote a document called the McMillan plan that redesigned the Mall as the main feature of a grander, larger federal district. It was thought of as a symbolic memorial for the Civil war and reconciliation.
At the West edge of the Mall, one can find the famous Lincoln Memorial, which was unveiled in 1922. This 19-foot tall statue representing Abraham Lincoln facing the reflecting pool is the most visited monument in Washington. Several historic speeches were pronounced on the steps of this building, including Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”. In 2011, Dr. King also became the first and so far, only black man to be honored with his own memorial on the National Mall. In addition, many other places of interest are worth the visit such as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the Second World War Memorial. Nevertheless, in 2003 some criticisms arose from those who considered that the Mall had become overloaded with buildings and monuments, but the Congress reaffirmed its status as an absolute work of art.
Over almost two centuries, the National Mall has remained an iconic place which highlights the national expressions of remembrance, celebration and freedom for all. The National Mall has hosted numerous presidential inaugurations and many civil rights demonstrations on top of the many activities and events which take place each year in the park. It has been a work in progress for more than 200 years that offers us the area we know today.
Every year millions of travelers from the United States and from all around the world come to visit the National Mall. Quite understandable if one considers the fact that this place is believed to be the historic center of the country. The many museums bordering the park open their doors to visitors, some of them for free such as the National Gallery of Art, the U.S. Botanic Gardens, the National Air & Space Museum and many more.
All these features make the National Mall an icon of American culture, history and patriotism.
Alexis Debroux, Célia Donnay, and Guillaume Etienne