The bronze sculpture of a woman standing in the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol welcomed us with open arms. She stands directly beneath a beautiful stained-glass dome that tops the building where Illinois law is proposed, debated and put to legislative vote. Taking a look around the Italian Renaissance Revival building, statues, paintings and ornate walls and ceilings surrounded us. To learn more about the art, architecture and what goes on in the capitol, we took the free half-hour tour.
Illinois State Capitol Senate Chambers
The tour began in the Senate chambers where we took seats in the gallery overlooking the senate floor.
Our guide filled us in on several facts about the building and the legislators.
• Legislators are in session from January to May. We visited in May, and if we had been there the day before, we may have been able to see some action. But we were there on a Friday, and legislators usually take Mondays and Fridays off.
• All of the senators’ offices are in the capitol. Some of the representatives’ offices are there as well, but most are across the street in another building. A tunnel between the two buildings keeps them from having to go outside in the inclement weather.
• The capitol also houses the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Comptroller and Treasurer.
• The building construction started in 1868, and it took twenty years to complete at a cost of $4.35 million. The final cost was under budget by $6.35. The dome is 361 feet high, 74 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol.
• There are 9,000 pieces of stained glass in the dome, with 42 different colors.
• The wood throughout the building is mahogany and walnut, and the marble is from the United States, Italy and Switzerland.
• The bas relief sculptures on the Senate ceiling are painted with gold and bronze leaf.
• The European crystal chandeliers in both the Senate and House chambers, original to the building, are 17.5 feet tall, weigh 750 pounds each, and are hand-cranked down for their annual cleaning.
• The carpeting was milled on 150-year-old looms in England. The strips are 27” wide and look as if they were hand-stitched together.
Illinois State Capitol House Chambers
Our next stop was the House Chambers, where a school tour group sat at the representatives’ desks, learning about the legislative process and voting in a mock election.
• The House of Representatives hears 6,000 bills a year. Of those 6,000 bills, 600 will pass from the House to the Senate. About 50 of the bills passed to the Senate will pass into law.
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• Voting is done electronically. Each representative has a block on his or her desk with several buttons used to call his or her page; to turn on the mic; and to vote yes, no or present (abstain). The number of the bill is listed on an electronic screen, as are the names of the representatives and a colored dot that corresponds with how they vote. A video screen shows whoever is speaking.
A fun bit of trivia: The movie, Legally Blonde2, was filmed in the Illinois House chambers. The U.S. Capitol wasn’t available, and this one resembled the U.S. Capitol more closely than any other in the country.
Rotunda and Old Supreme Courtroom
Following our tour of the House chambers, we stopped at three floors of the rotunda, where our guide pointed out various architectural features, as well as paintings and statues, and explained their historical significance.
Our last stop was the Old Supreme Courtroom. The Illinois Supreme Court moved to its own building in 1908 because the room was too small. Today the ornately decorated room is used as a senate committee hearing room.
After the tour you may wander about, if you’d like, in any of the public areas. You can go back to read inscriptions on the artwork or take photos you may not have had time to take during the tour. But if you visit, do take the tour. It will help you to understand the significance of much of the art work.
If you go to the Illinois State Capitol
The Illinois State Capitol is located at 410 Second Street in Springfield, Illinois. Free tours begin every half hour (except 12-1 p.m.). Check the web site for hours and other details.
We’ve stayed in several different hotels on our visits to Springfield over the years and have been happy with all of them. Find the best hotel deal for you, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.
Disclosures: The Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted my visit to Springfield. However, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a hotel room through the TripAdvisor link above, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
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