Washington D.C. isn't just America's capital, home to its symbols of power and history. It's also a city that has woven itself into the global soul.
From the President's home at the White House, to the home of Congress and the Senate on Capitol Hill, this is the city where the government of America conducts it day-to-day business. And from the tall white obelisk of the Washington Monument, to the striking Lincoln Memorial, Washington is a city packed with reminders of an American past that stretches from Founding Fathers to Civil War to Civil Rights.
If everything seems so very familiar when you wander around Washington, that's because it is. Countless films, books and news broadcasts have stamped these symbols of power into the world's consciousness. The National Mall, that criss-cross of parkland that's the backdrop for much of the city's architectural and monumental drama, is really the only place to start.
Here you can walk the spaces that have packed with the American people at times of crisis and celebration – Martin Luther King's famous 'Dream' speech rang out here. So too did the noise of the Vietnam War protests, and the crack of fireworks each Independence Day on 4th of July. The Mall is also where America tries to heal its wounds. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is tucked into a corner, a poignant reminder that while America doesn't always agree, it can still put divisions behind it.
This capital city is big on celebrating all aspects of the national culture. The National Air and Space Museum vies for your attention with the National Museum of Natural History, which jostles with the National Gallery of Art. There is a museum dedicated to the news media at the Newseum, and one that thrusts you into the role of secret agent, the International Spy Museum.
Foggy Bottom has the remnants of a notorious slum tucked in amongst its government offices and cultural centres. Watergate hides here too. And the Arlington National Cemetery doesn't just provide America's fallen with their last resting place. General Lee – that hero of the South who almost broke up the United States – has his home here. His estate was chosen as the national war cemetery as punishment for leading the Confederates armies.
And what about the 'D.C.' bit – the District of Columbia – in the name. It isn't there merely to set the capital apart from the State of Washington, on the far-flung north-west US coast. As the capital, the District of Columbia is wholly separate from the strongly independent States that make up the United States of America. Visit any one of those States, and you'll get a window onto a piece of the American soul. But it's only in Washington D.C. that those pieces are woven together to make the American Dream whole.