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Marble Columns, Jefferson Memorial

Geology of Washington, DC


Marble is the signature stone of Washington, a custom with sound architectural justification but political implications as well. (more below)
The city's signature rock
Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Click the photo to see the full-size version. The public tends to call any white stone "marble." The builder distinguishes marble from limestone by its ability to take a polish. The geologist visiting Washington tends to go along with the builder, but makes different distinctions when at home (this article summarizes them all). Marble, whatever its scientific name, is strong and easily worked and is widely available in the eastern and central United States. Architects like its harmonious appearance as well as its strength.

The politics of marble consist in its historical significance and its domestic sources. The grandest structures of the ancient European empires, buildings that stand to this day, were monuments of marble. Marble "says" permanence and empire; marble is good for national self-esteem. The statues, halls and pyramids of Washington are conscious echoes of Greek, Roman and European predecessors. And each state is proud to have its specialty stone represented in Washington. These columns at the Jefferson Memorial are made of Vermont marble while the floors consist of marble from Tennessee, all of it seated on a foundation of Georgia granite.

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