Sunday, October 28, 2007


Smithsonian Castle

One of the best things about Washington, D.C., is the Smithsonian Institution, which is a system of archives, museums, exhibitions, and education programs that are among some of the best in the world of arts and industries. In Washington alone, the Smithsonian includes 13 museums and a zoological park, with an additional museum in New York City and a sister museum in Chantilly, Virginia.

This most visited museum in the Smithsonian system is the National Air & Space Museum. It includes a sister museum, the Udvar-Hazy Center, in Virginia. If you want to see portraits of America's founders, the National Portrait Gallery is the museum to visit. At the Natural History Museum, you can see the Hope Diamond and in the American History Museum, you can see the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner." If you like modern art and sculpture, the Hischhorn is your museum. Asian art can be found in the Freer and Sackler Gallery, while the Renwick houses some of America's finest artists. If you're interested in African art or African American history, the National Museum of African Art and the Anacostia Community Museum, respectively, are for you. To see Tai-shan the panda, visit the National Zoo. The Smithsonian's newest museum is the National Museum of the American Indian.

The best part about the Smithsonian museums and zoo: they're all free. How is this possible? A bequest from a British scientist named James Smithson named the United States as the benefactor of his estate. Upon the death of his nephew, his only heir, Smithson's estate--valued at around $500,000 in 1838--was given to the United States "to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." To learn more about the Smithsonian, go here. For a complete listing of Smithsonian museums and institutions, go here.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 10/07.

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