Saturday, January 9, 2016


As I said in my previous post, the Iowa Capitol Building is one of my favorite of all the capitols we've seen. I have to say the same for the interior. The building was completed in 1886 at a cost of $2.9 million, a huge amount (according to this site, it would be $71.6 million today). 

As in most capitols, the dominant feature is the dome that rises 275 feet above the rotunda. It measures 80 feet across and is decorated with 23 karat gold.

Directly beneath the dome is a round glass floor. The original building had a glass floor like this that was removed in the early 1900s and railings were placed around the open circle. The glass floor was reinstalled in 2011.
Delegates to Iowa Boys State were touring the capitol while we were there. You'll notice them in their white shirts in many of my photos. 

There are 29 different types of marble used in the building. The walls and ceilings are rich with color and elegant patterns:

There are spectacular glass ceilings in several different places:

An enormous mural entitled Westward (Edwin H. Blashfield, 1905) covers the wall at the top of one of the staircases. The pioneers are led by four angels: the Spirits of Enlightenment (holding a book), Civilization (sowing grain), Steam (holding a steam engine), and Electricity (holding an electric generator--not what I think of when I think of angels):
I love this romantic, idealized style of painting. It reminds me a lot of Blashfield's contemporary, Minerva Teichert.

However, the best feature of the capitol was not the ceilings or the walls or even the painting, but the floor. 
Tiled floor sections were laid out like rugs on display in a Persian carpet shop:

Sections looked like intricate quilt patterns:

I would go back just to admire these floors again. They are amazing.

However, I couldn't just take pictures of the floor all day, so we moved on to the House of Representatives:
. . . and the Supreme Court (love the carpet):
. . . and the Senate Chamber:
These chandeliers weigh 500 pounds and have 5,600 crystals each:
Yeah, I think it would be great to work in this beautiful place. All I have to do is move to Iowa and get elected, right?

AND THEN WE SAW THE LIBRARY. I've never wanted to be a librarian so much in my life. The Iowa Capitol Library could be a Harry Potter movie set:

The lighting was problematic and my pictures just don't do it justice. Trust me--it is breathtaking.
View from above:
Bob strikes a lawyer-ly pose (but he should be scowling, don't you think?):

How about that circular staircase? Wow. One thing these 19th century buildings have that we don't see in our modern buildings is a plethora of staircases. There is an elevator too, but I'm guessing it was installed later on. In addition to those incredible staircases in the library, these were my favorites:
I've seen lots of circular staircases, but oval staircases are rare (although I noticed one in an episode of Downtown Abbey):

In addition to the floors and the library, my other favorite thing was this mosaic mural above the landing of one of those many staircases.
The six Venetian mosaics are over 100 years old and represent Defense, Charities, Education, and the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government.

The detail is incredible--nuances of expression, muscle, movement, and shadow created by little tiles:


Executive branch

Judicial branch

Other pieces of art are hung around the building:
A typical side hallway:
The display cases in the hallway above contain forty-one Iowa First Lady dolls wearing their inaugural gowns:

On our way out we stopped to admire this model of the U.S.S. Iowa, on loan from the U.S. Department of the Navy:
The model is 1/4" : 1 foot. Even at 1/48th of the real size, it is 18 feet and 7 inches long and weighs 1,350 pounds. The U.S.S. Iowa served in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II and is now a floating museum parked in San Pedro, California.

TripAdvisor rates the capitol building as #1 out of 52 things to see in Des Moines. We couldn't agree more. Even if you don't get particularly excited by state capitols, this is one to visit.


  1. This is astonishing! I really, really, really need to go Iowa!

  2. State capitols are cool. One day I would like to visit each one.

  3. I was gobsmacked by the Iowa capitol building. Right up there with the most beautiful building of any kind I've ever seen.

  4. You dont have to be elected to work there. I worked there doing clerical work. It is so incredible. 99% of people take photos of the big major things, and miss the small details. You almost have to be there everyday to see the many handcrafted bits & bobs, at every turn. I worked at the top of the main stairway--right where your photo is..with balcony access to the senate. -- That red stained glass window--if you crop out everything but the corner squares--just that alone is really pretty. I loved looking at doorways, and trim- lots of marble