The Texas State Capitol as seen from West 11th Street
I’ve driven through a handful of American state capitals, but never have I stopped to visit any of the actual capitol buildings. That changed when a friend and I drove up to Austin during the day to check out the Texas State Capitol.
We parked next to the Governor’s Mansion on 11th Street, which runs in front of the building. The sheer size of the structure amazed me as we walked towards the gates that grant entrance to the tree and monument filled grounds. I had to stop and take as many pictures as I could from different angles – it was difficult trying to fit the enormous building into the frame.
Before entering, we decided to peruse the grounds and examine some of the monuments that line the walkway leading towards the capitol. The first were memorials to the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy and to volunteer firefighters who gave their lives to save others. Further up stood statues of Terry’s Texas Rangers and the defenders of the Alamo.
The pink granite clad exterior has a skin-like tinge to it, making it seem almost human. Above the entrance, the towering dome was encased in a web of scaffolding as repairs were in progress. Topped by the flags of the United States and Texas, emblems of the six flags of Texas embraced the facade.
Being a government facility, we were subject to screening before entering. Stupidly, I forgot to remove all of the change in my pockets, and thus set off the metal detector when going through it. After being waved over with a wand and checked for not carrying any prohibited weapon, the culprit turned out to be a single dime clinging to the inside of my pockets. Remember, when they ask you to take everything out of your pockets, that includes rogue coins!
Standing in the rotunda and looking up at the dome
After that embarrassing moment, it was time to continue on with the visit. Past the security checkpoint, the cavernous rotunda greeted us. Up on the distant ceiling of the dome, a painted star with “Texas” spelled around it was partially obscured by safety netting suspended as part of the renovations. However, the rest of the interior was spectacular. The details on the sculpted panels were intricate and delicate. Columns seemed as if we were in a Roman temple. Balustrades encircled rows of portraits of former governors and other political figures in the history of the state on the upper levels.
On the second floor, we found ourselves in the senate chamber. Although empty of people (excluding us tourists), it was populated with many chairs and desks. Massive paintings of more historical figures, and the battles at the Alamo and of San Jacinto graced the walls. Giant windows let the warm afternoon sun fill up the room making it seem as if we were outside. Looking up, a set of star-shaped lights dangled from the recessed ceiling with frosted glass opening up to the sky.
Outside the senate chamber, we paused for a bit in the room where televised speeches are recorded. Up against a navy curtain, the six flags of Texas stood and we took turns taking poses. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as creative as my friend – looking silly standing with a blank expression between the banners.
Looking down at the rotunda, the Seal of Texas staring back. Centred in the middle of a star and ringed with the five of the six flags of Texas, the seal is almost everywhere in the capitol. From the elevators to the brass knobs on the doors, we found it. Even on the glass of the skylights in the senate chamber. Texas is a proud state and it shows.
Exploring more, we made our way downstairs and into the new wing of the capitol. According to the historical plaques mounted on the walls, a massive fire almost destroyed the building in 1983. To help alleviate crowding, during the reconstruction, the grounds to the north were dug up and a modern structure planted firmly in the space. This allowed the capitol to expand its area while retaining the familiar skyline without some ugly edifice interfering. A central atrium helps to bring in sunlight to make it feel like you were above ground. In this extension, we found the gift shop and some unique Texas treasures to take home.
If you can, stop by the Texas State Capitol and take a look around. There are guided tours of the building, or you can just wander around (like we did). You don’t have to be a fan of politics to absorb the superb architecture and history. Future photos are available on Gallery.