Wednesday, July 25, 2001

University of Virginia

As part of my continuing goal of visiting World Heritage sites, before meeting my friends, I headed to the University of Virginia, one-half of a World Heritage site. OK, maybe less than one-half, but I would have had to get up earlier in the day to visit Monticello. That, as well as counting the site as visited, will have to wait for a later visit. Which will definitely come this winter during ski season. (I did visit Monticello during 8th grade, but I'm not counting that, mostly as incentive to make another visit.)

I got to UVa right after the 11 am tour was to begin, but I had some amount of difficulty finding the Rotunda. So I fell in with a tour that was transpiring on the Lawn. At first, I thought the tour guide needed more education, as she referred to the "Academical Village", but I eventually realized that this must be the term that Jefferson, for whatever reason must have used. Unfortunately, shortly into the tour, I realized that this was a tour for prospective students and their families, and when the tour became less interesting that the cement some construction workers were pouring, it was time to jump ship.

So back to the Rotunda. Entering the Rotunda at roughly 11:30, there was a tour just beginning (which is not what the schedule indicated). Anyway, it was a pretty cool tour. The Rotunda was originally the library, and I don't know how many times I heard about the significance of Jefferson's making the library the center of his university (as opposed to the chapel). I also learned that after a fire, the interior (which did not survive the fire) was substantially rebuilt to accomodate more books. After the library moved out in the 1930s, the Rotunda was mostly empty until the 1970s when it was restored. So now it mostly holds meetings, such as their equivalent of a board of regents, or dissertation defenses. I don't know what it says that a building with mostly ceremonial function is now the center of the university. But I do know that it would have been cool having a dissertation defense in such a historical building, as opposed to the one I had mine in at an older university.

Anyway, it was interesting seeing what Jefferson wanted in a university, especially after my recent reading of that John Adams biography. The tour guide spoke with reverence about Jefferson's designs for the Rotunda, but I started to imagine him yelling at the construction workers (slaves?) if the crenellations weren't done just right. Hmm.

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