US Capitol building: what is the United States Congress building on Washington’s Capitol Hill used for?

Pro-Trump protesters stormed the building to interrupt Joe Biden’s election victory meeting

The US Capitol was the scene of violent protests when an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the building, causing it to be put under lockdown.

The storming of the Capitol building by a mob of Trump supporters has been widely condemned by politicians and leaders across the US and Europe.

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The violent protests broke out on Wednesday 6 January on the day Joe Biden’s election win was set to be confirmed by congress.

The U.S. Congress has finished the certification for President-elect Joe Biden after pro-Trump protestors stormed the Capitol and temporarily stopped the process. (Picture: Getty Images)
The U.S. Congress has finished the certification for President-elect Joe Biden after pro-Trump protestors stormed the Capitol and temporarily stopped the process. (Picture: Getty Images)

But what is the Capitol building used for, who works there and what’s its history?Here is everything you need to know.

Where is the Capitol building?

The United States Capitol is located on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C.

What is it used for?

The Capitol is the meeting place of the US Congress and the place where legislation is debated by the federal government.

The House of Representatives and the Senate - the two elected branches of the US government - sit in the Capitol.

The representatives sit in the north wing, while the Senate is located in the south wing.

When was it built?

The building has existed since 1800 and the House of Representatives has been held there since then too.

However, the Capitol that can be seen today is an expanded version of the original. In 1850 a huge dome and the wings were added.

Since then, an underground subway has also been linked up to the building, in order to transport officials and staff between the three Senate office buildings and one of the four House office buildings.

What events have taken place at the Capitol?

Presidential inaugurations take place every four years at the Capitol.

These inauguration ceremonies are huge events and play a significant role in American politics,welcoming the newly elected president into office.

The congressional ceremony whereby the electoral college vote for the next president also takes place here.

This event was taking place following the 2020 election result when pro-Trump ralliers stormed the building on 6 January 2021.

Late presidents are also frequently taken to the Capitol’s rotunda - the area directly below the dome - before their burial.

This is where members of the public can pay their respects, as the presidents ‘lie in state’.

Presidents who have been laid in state include president J.F. Kennedy, Ronald Raegan and George Bush Snr.

Private citizens who have brought honour to the United States may also be taken here, known as to ‘lie in honour’.

In 2005, civil rights activist Rosa Parks was laid to rest after the public paid their respects in the Rotunda.

The crypt of Washington can also be found in the Capitol - two stories directly below the Rotunda.

It was initially built as the final resting place of the first president of the US, George Washington, but this was changed after his will stated he wished to be buried at Mount Vernon.

Day to day, members of the House of Representatives and Senate meet in the Capitol building and their staff also work within the north and south wings.

What art can be found inside the Capitol?

The Art of the Capitol is one of it’s most noted focal points, and is mainly located in the Rotunda.

The main painting inside the Rotunda, as well as the art which decorates the first floor of the Senate wing, was created by Italian-greek painter Constantino Brumidi from 1856 until his death in 1880.

His work has led to the senate corridor becoming known as the Brumidi corridor, and he is also responsible for the art of The Apotheosis of Washington beneath the top of the dome, and the Frieze of American History.

The Apotheosis of Washington, painted in the oculus (roof) of the dome, depicts George Washington surrounded by maidens, Roman and Greek gods.

It represents the idea of the president becoming a god.

The painting also has a banner which reads “E pluribus unum”, Latin for “out of many, one" - the original American motto.

In the empty Washington crypt, a huge bust of Abraham Lincoln is on show,designed by Gutzon Borglum.

Borglum's sculpture of Lincoln was so precise that Robert Todd Lincoln, the president's son, referred to it as "the most extraordinarily good portrait of my father I have ever seen".

The bust remains unfinished, missing a left ear, in reference to Lincoln’s ‘unfinished life’.

Among hundreds of other pieces of art and sculpture, it is not yet known whether any was damaged in the pro-Republican rally on 6 January.

What happened during the protests on 6 January?

As the senate where voting to congressional certify Joe Biden as the next American president, pro-Trump protestors stormed into the Capitol.

The riots began as a non-violent rally in the day, hosted by Trump, where he told his supporters that they had been denied the election through electoral fraud - claims which have not been proven.

Trump also told the rally how vice-President Mike Pence would “do the right thing” and reject the results of the election, something Pence is not empowered to do and had previously stated he would not do.

Hundreds of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol building where the congressional certification of the election was taking place and broke windows and doors, with protestors managing to reach as far as the room where the speaker and the senate had met.

Armed police were deployed and, after hours of mayhem and the shooting of a protester, Trump deployed the National Guard. The building was then evacuated and politicians were taken to safe places, as were their staff.

One Trump supporter, Ashli Babbit, was killed in the protest, as shots as tear gas were fired by officers attempting to take back control.

After hours of protesting, the building was secured and Joe Biden was certified as US president.