I’ve never dedicated an entire post to a state capitol before, but the PA State Capitol building in Harrisburg is positively breathtaking! No matter which direction you look (up, down or side to side), there’s yet another artistic detail to delight the eye.
Even if visiting state capitols isn’t ordinarily your thing, I promise you a visit to the Pennsylvania State Capitol building is worth it. And it’s free!
Before going inside, take a look at the bronze entrance doors. They each weigh one ton, yet are hung so precisely they can be moved with the strength of a single finger.
And don’t miss the keyhole cover! It’s the bust of Joseph M. Huston, the architect of this grand “Palace of Art”.
The two marble statuaries that flank the west entrance were originally designed as nudes, but after a bit of an uproar, sheaths were added to the male figures. Personally, I think the sheaths are a bit odd and awkward looking, but the sculptures themselves are magnificent.
One depicts life’s struggles and how men carry those burdens, and one depicts how men can move beyond those struggles through hard work and brotherhood.
PA State Capitol Main Rotunda
Once through security and inside the capitol, my jaw dropped. Without a doubt, the towering rotunda dome with its 23 karat gold leafing is the showstopping centerpiece of the PA state capitol building.
It was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and its 52-million pound weight is self-supported by four pillars which extend seven feet into the bedrock.
The dome looks down over a sweeping Carrera marble staircase which was patterned after the grand staircase of the Paris opera house.
Although you can pick up a map and explore the PA state capitol on your own, I highly recommend taking one of the free 30-minute tours. The guides are exceptionally well-informed and you’ll hear fascinating details about the construction and artwork.
You’ll spend a lot of time looking up at the architecture and artwork, but don’t forget to look down at the Moravian tile floors too. This “Carpet of History” contains nearly 400 picture tiles marking significant parts of Pennsylvania’s timeline.
If you have kids (or if you’re a kid at heart), be sure you get a copy of the scavenger hunt checklist and see if you can find all the picture tiles in the main rotunda.
Look for Teddy Roosevelt’s dedication plaque too. When he dedicated the building in 1906, he proclaimed, “This is the handsomest building I ever saw.”
PA State Capitol Senate Chamber
The Senate is richly dressed in Irish green Connemara marble, 23-karat gold leafing, two-ton chandeliers, magnificent murals and stained glass windows.
Four layers of glass provide the depth of color you see in the stained glass windows, and the only light flowing through is sunlight.
The crystal chandeliers were hand-cut in diamond patterns resulting in the “x” reflection. When the capitol was built, there were only 25-watt bulbs, so the extra reflection enhanced the brightness.
The chandeliers each weigh two tons!
PA State Capitol Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has the most amazing stained glass dome which is only visible from inside the capitol, and it was my favorite part of the entire building.
The chandeliers in this room all have statues inside them, and the clock at the rear of the chamber is one of more than 200 clocks found throughout the capitol complex. They’re all hand wound once a week.
PA State Capitol House of Representatives Chamber
The marble in this room came from a monk’s quarry in the French Pyrenees, and after the donation was given, the quarry was never used again. The largest mural in the capitol, “The Apotheosis” towers over the chamber along with both two and four and a half-ton chandeliers. When the lightbulbs in this room are changed, it takes two weeks!
In the House, roll call is done electronically and votes are displayed on the wall for all to see.
The PA State Capitol is truly one of the most (if not the most) ornate capitol in America. Originally built at a cost of $13 million, the value is now considered to be priceless.
Pin my PA State Capitol post for travel inspiration!
PA State Capitol Visitor Details
- Self-guided brochures available with limited access on weekends and holidays.
- Free daily 30-45 minute tours (limited to 80 people) are available weekdays and most weekends and holidays. These may be booked online. Call to confirm, especially during school hours.
- Metered parking is available within walking distance.
- Photography is allowed when the legislature is not in session.
- Wheelchair friendly access
Contact Visit Hershey & Harrisburg for help in planning a trip to the area.