The Texas State Capitol
One of the benefits of visiting Austin, the capital city of Texas, is touring the impressive capitol building at 1800 Congress Avenue. It may look familiar – the architect, Elijah E. Meyers, modeled it after the capitol building in Washington D.C., However, because it’s located in Texas, it is 14 feet taller than the Federal Capitol Building, and after an underground extension was completed in the mid 1990s, surpassed the federal building in square footage as well.
The importance and the prominence of the Capitol Building for the city of Austin cannot be overstated enough, and the city has taken care to preserve the views of the capitol from around the city. Until the 1960s, no building was permitted to be taller than the capitol building. But when the University of Texas built the 26-story Westgate Tower, controversy sparked, creating what is now know as “Capitol View Corridors.” All in all, there are now 39 Capitol View Corridors in the city, which block the development of buildings that would impede the view of the capitol from various points in the city.
The main entrance to the Texas capitol building is located on the south side of the structure, famously approached via Congress Avenue, whose buildings frame the capitol, providing an iconic, treasured promenade to the entrance. Above the doors at the main entrance, there are six seals located on the building, representing the six independent countries that which have laid claim to Texas over the centuries.
To enter, you’ll go through a short security. On the other side of security, is the South Foyer, where all tours depart.
The capitol has a myriad of knowledgeable tour guides who are happy to answer questions while they direct you through the various places around the building or grounds. The tours vary in subject matter, ranging from the basic capitol tour, which explores the building’s rooms and architectural highlights, as well as tours which focus on Women in Texas History, Heroes of the Texas Revolution, and there are a variety of seasonal tours throughout the year: an African American Trailblazers Tour in February, a Hispanic Heritage Tour in September, a Rest in Peace Tour in October which explores the ghost stories of the capitol, a Texas Veterans Tour in November, and a Holiday Capitol Tour in December, which explores the different holiday traditions from a variety of ethnic cultures in Texas. Tours generally depart every half hour, but on busy days are known to depart every quarter hour, and all tours are free.
If you’d rather explore at your own pace, the South Foyer also provides two different maps: the capitol building map, and the capitol grounds map. Each map locates and describes points of interest for their respective area, which range from war and veteran memorials, to sculptures and portraits of important people from Texas’ colorful history, to the legislative rooms in the building. As you depart, make sure you visit the Capitol Gift Shop, which has two locations. There is one in the downstairs extension, and one in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, located on
the southeast side of the building. There you can find a variety of unique Texas-themed gifts ranging from salsas to belt buckles, coffee mugs, framed works of art, and of course, the official Capitol Christmas ornament, which designs a new style each year.