Minnesota State Capitol
Minnesota’s State Capitol, St. Paul, is one of the Midwest’s most spectacular buildings! Designed by world-acclaimed architect Cass Gilbert, famous for his design of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C., New York City’s Woolworth Building, and more. I feel that he successfully achieved his goal to design a building in the classical style but with all the modern conveniences of the time. Construction began in 1896 and it was opened to the public in 1905.
As the World Reopens…
Minnesota State Capitol is now open again to the public! After four years of repair and restoration (2013-2017) and then over a year of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic shut down along with civil unrest due to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police (2020-2021), it once again welcomes visitors. Currently, self-guided tours are open; guided tours are scheduled to be available again later in the summer of 2021.
Travel Dates to World Class Cities!
Unable to travel abroad due to the pandemic restrictions, my husband and I are embarking on a summer of Travel Dates to the World-Class-Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, just out our back door. If we were visitors to these cities, these are places that need to be on a must-see list! We’d like to share them with you!
Our first Travel Date was to St. Paul where we took advantage of the re-opening of the Minnesota Capitol. To round out the day, we added the magnificent Neo-classic Cathedral of St. Paul (almost next door) and capped off our date with a visit to the historic, quaint St. Paul Brewery, also close-by. (Details on these sites can be found at other blog posts: Cathedral of St. Paul (coming next) and St. Paul Brewery, a part of the Swede Hollow blog).
The Capitol Building
The ‘crowning glory’ of the capitol is its dome, patterned by Cass Gilbert after Michelangelo‘s famous marble-dome on St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy. It was finished in 1905.
Gracing its base is the golden sculpture group commonly known as the “Quadriga,” Latin for four-horse chariot. Its official title is “The Progress of the State.”
The copper sculpture, like the ball atop the dome, is covered with gold leaf.
Overlooking the entrance are the “Virtues,” six colossal figures just below the Quadriga. Sculpted in white marble from designs by Daniel French, the classical figures represent Courage, Bounty, Integrity, Prudence, Truth and Wisdom. Current statues are replicas carved in 1975-79 to replace the deteriorating originals.
(Photo by Skip – of Cher on Capitol steps, 25 June 2021)
The exterior of the Renaissance Revival-style building is made of Georgia white marble and St. Cloud (MN) granite. Gilbert insisted on white marble because he felt the use of a darker color would make it look “gloomy and forbidding.” To pacify critics who wanted to utilize Minnesota products and labor, the rough-cut Georgia marble was shipped to St. Paul for local craftsman to do the work on-site.
The Capitol is more than 430 feet long from east to west. From ground level to the top of the dome’s lantern is 220 feet – about the height of a 20 story building. Inside, the building is more than 300,000 square feet of floor space, or about 5 million cubic feet of space.
The Capitol Mall
The Capitol Mall is like Minnesota’s Big Back Yard. It is host to festivals, concerts, demonstrations, and a variety of public gatherings.
An excellent self-guided walking tour of the mall is included in the Capitol website from the Minnesota Historical Society. Detailed maps and the location of 20 highlights are listed for the visitor to discover and enjoy.
The Capitol Mall covers a spacious 18 acres of open space. Gilbert’s original plans envisioned landscaping to complement the building. It includes sculptures, gardens and plaques to remember important events, honor individuals and groups of Minnesotans.
Gracing its base of the dome is the golden sculpture group commonly known as the “Quadriga,” Latin for four-horse chariot. Its official title is “The Progress of the State.” The copper sculpture, like the ball atop the dome, is covered with gold leaf.
Like most art in the capitol, the figures are symbolic. The horses represent earth, wind, fire and water. The women represent civilization yet individually they personify industry and agriculture. The man symbolizes prosperity.
Sculpted in 1906 by Daniel Chester French, he is best known for the Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Visitors can view these magnificent figures up close and in person with selected guided public tours, available later this summer.
The Capitol Dome
The breath-taking dome is patterned by Cass Gilbert after Michelangelo‘s famous marble-domed on St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy.
The dome has three layers.
- The outer layer is a self supporting dome of Georgia marble blocks resting upon their own height.
- Hidden inside is a brick and steel cone that supports the lantern and gold ball at the top of the done.
- Below that is the decorative masonry dome you can see from the inside, looking up at the rotunda
Hanging from the middle of the dome, high overhead, is a crystal chandelier six feet in diameter, lit by 92 light bulbs. (Impressive as this sounds, I felt that the chandelier was dwarfed by its surroundings and if I didn’t know it was there, I could easily have missed it.)
The Capitol Rotunda
The Rotunda, the large, round area in the center of the building, extends from the first floor to the inner dome. In the center of the floor is a large marble star, repeated in brass and glass, symbol of the MN state motto “The North Star State.“
The Grand Floor: Second Floor
The second floor is called the “grand floor” of the capitol. It houses the chambers of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court.
Each space, unless in session, can be viewed at the chamber entrance where you can see the layout of each room, carpet, furnishings, and restored decorative and fine art.
Visitor Tip: Be sure to check if the legislature is in session. When we visited, it was in a Special Session so we had limited access.
The Supreme Court
This is the highest court in the State of Minnesota. Chief Justice and six associate justices preside.
Visitors may sit in the benches facing them.
Artwork includes four large murals by John LaFarge which symbolize concepts of the legal system from different time periods and cultures.
67 senators are elected for four-year terms. The President of the Senate is elected by the Senate members and presides over the body when in session.
Public viewing areas above the dais* can be accessed during the legislative session from the third floor.
Artwork includes murals by Edwin Blashfield that represent the importance of agriculture, patriotism, and the Mississippi river in the state’s history.
*A dais or daïs is a raised platform at the front of a room or hall, usually for one or more speakers or honored guests. I founds its origins interesting. Historically, the dais was a part of the floor at the end of a medieval hall, raised a step above the rest of the room.
House of Representatives Chamber
The largest in the building, it is used for both regular House sessions and joint sessions of the legislature. The 134 representatives are elected for two years. The speaker sits in the topmost desk.
Public viewing galleries face the front and can be accessed from the third floor.
Artwork includes the ceiling, designed by Elmer E. Garnsey, director of decorations during the original construction. It includes four names to honor early French explorers to the Northwest: LaSalle, Hennepin, Perrot and Duluth. Above the Speaker’s desk is a sculpture group titled “Minnesota: The Spirit of Government” designed by Carlos Brioschi (1938).
The Art & The Grandeur
Beauty abounds in this spectacular building! Minnesota-quarried granite can be seen in the ground floor level, steps and terraces. Minnesota sandstone and limestone were used for the foundation and interior walls to fully represent the various stones from the state, which are numerous.
Murals, sculptures/statues and paintings fill the walls, ceilings, and nooks and crannies, all with a special symbolism or significance to the state’s history or the office.
Artwork abounds throughout the capitol – in all mediums. I was enthralled by the magnificence of the metalwork as well as the stonework in the stairways, railings, arches, and columns.
Hundreds of statues, busts, paintings, murals and plaques, plus large portraits of all Minnesota governors, fill the halls and walls. You can explore an inventory of art in the capitol by title or type of art on the Minnesota History Center capitol website (mnhs.org) which also lists where they are located in the building.
(Photo of Corinthian column on 3rd floor by Cher B, 25 June 2021)
Visitors should be cautioned that art moves from place to place and some has been removed during the restoration project. Also, due to the daily business use of some of the rooms, not all of the art may be available for viewing. But there is plenty to view, and something new around every corner!
Other Important Rooms & Art to Check out
Governor’s Reception Room
This is a functioning workspace for meetings and press conferences throughout the year, hence its availability may be limited day-to-day. The office of the governor is through one of the doors in this room. (On the day we visited, it was scheduled to be open, but it had just closed to the public an hour before we arrived. We were of course disappointed, but gives us reason to visit again someday! )
Ornately decorated with white oak woodwork and plaster of Paris symbols of Minnesota overlaid in gold-tinted metal leaf, it is an impressive room. (Check it out the next time the governor has a press conference seen on TV!)
Cass Gilbert designed the original hand-carved mahogany table is in the center of the room amidst other historic furniture. Paintings of scenes from Minnesota’s involvement in the Civil War adorn the walls. (Keep an ear to the news as the portrayal of the subjects of some of these paintings has raised controversy in recent years.)
This was the first room in the capitol to be restored to its original appearance in 1984. During the 2013-2017 restoration, a reproduction of the original carpet* was installed to complement the original furniture and artwork.
*Note from these photos from the MHS website and Google Images, there are 3 different carpet patterns! However, my guess is that it is this red one in the bottom photo; a recent photo of an interview with Gov. Walz (2021) appeared to have a deep red carpet…but I am just speculating..!
In the lower level of the building is a cafeteria space created by Gilbert and Garnsey to resemble a German dining hall. Over the years it had been redecorated and the original “flavor” had been lost.
Restored in 1999, it again captures the historic setting of 1905. Original German mottoes, small animals and floral designs can now be enjoyed.
Open for public dining during the legislative session, and open to view most other times. When we visited mid-afternoon, it was open for us to explore but there was no food-service.
What I Need to Know to Visit
The Minnesota History Center Capitol website is very complete with all the information (great maps) you need to know to plan a visit. Remember this is a public building serving multiple government agencies. Check the website before planning your visit for latest developments on the legislature sessions, court hearings. (mnhis.org/capitol/visit)
- Getting There: Cars, Bicycles, Bus, Metro Green Line, Pedestrian.
- Parking: A number of public parking options are available in ramps, lots and metered on-street. Bicycle racks. Electric vehicle charging station.
- Admission: FREE, self-or-guided tours. Access was easy and no visitor security check at the entrance. There were security checkpoints throughout the building to prevent us from entering the chambers in session and off-limits spaces.
Map & Other Travel Date Sites in St. Paul
- Minnesota State Capitol (top left)
- Cathedral of St. Paul (center left)
- Rice Park, Landmark Center, Herbies on the Park (center)
- St. Paul City Hall & Ramsey County Courthouse (center)
- Raspberry Island, Wabasha Bridge, City House and Mississippi River (lower left)
- Swede Hollow & St. Paul Brewery (top right, just off the map)
Unable to travel abroad due to the pandemic restrictions, my husband and I are embarking on a summer of Travel Dates to the world-class-cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Photos by Cher B, Skip, and unless otherwise noted, mnhis.org/capitol/