Exploring the Best of Boise: Idaho State Capitol
Posted by Lisa Kohl on Friday, February 22nd, 2019 at 12:59pm
The Idaho State Capitol building is a popular spot for both locals and visitors alike to tour and experience art, architecture, and history.
When you see photos of downtown Boise with its picturesque skyline and surrounding foothills, a common sight is the Idaho State Capitol building. It’s no wonder that this iconic structure is featured prominently in many pictures of Boise considering its striking architecture and beautiful grounds.
As impressive as it is from the outside, the inside of the building is even more breathtaking, with multi-colored marble from around the world, sandstone from Table Rock, floods of natural light, and a large collection of art and statuary.
Whether you’re visiting for the first time or the tenth, we have all the information you need to see the Idaho State Capitol.
Visiting the Idaho State Capitol
The Idaho State Capitol building is open to the public seven days a week.
The Capitol building is open to the public seven days a week and visitors are encouraged to come in and see the building for themselves. Of course, during the legislative session, government functions may mean certain rooms are unavailable or off-limits, but for the most part, the Capitol is free and open.
During the legislative session, the 4th-floor gallery is open to the public to view the House and Senate proceedings. You can take a self-guided tour any time you like or schedule a guided tour.
700 W Jefferson St, Boise, ID 83702
Monday-Friday - 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday, and holidays - 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Self-guided tours are encouraged for small groups, individuals, and last-minute visits.
The Capitol Commission has published an excellent booklet for self-guided tours full of history, interesting facts, and information about the Capitol Restoration Project. Start your self-guided tour downstairs on the Garden Level and Atrium wings to experience the interpretive exhibit, visitor information desk, and gift shop.
Guided tours are available to groups of five or more and must be booked at least two weeks in advance. You can request a guided tour with this online form, by emailing email@example.com or calling (208) 332-1012.
Capitol visitors may use the Capitol Visitor Parking spaces on the lot at 6th and State Streets. These are three-hour parking spaces and do not require a permit. Metered parking is also available on Jefferson, 6th, or 8th Streets around the Capitol; there is no parking available on State Street.
The Capitol Gift Shop is a great place to stop during or after your tour of the Capitol to grab an idea-themed souvenir.
Hours: Monday-Friday - 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Capitol History and Fun Facts
View of the Capitol from the House Wing atrium.
The Idaho State Capitol building has a rich history that began 15 years after Idaho became a state.
In 1905, the legislature voted to begin construction on the Capitol and hired Boise architect John Tourtellotte. Tourtellotte’s resulting masterpiece used natural light and a unique mixture of materials to create a building that is truly remarkable.
The majority of the Capitol building is constructed with sandstone from Table Rock, a nearby Boise landmark. Convicts from the then-fledgling Idaho State Penitentiary hauled sandstone from Table Rock to the construction site.
Tourtellotte also incorporated multiple kinds of marble into the design of the building—red from Georgia, grey from Alaska, green from Vermont, and black from Italy.
The building’s main architectural inspirations are St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. It’s no wonder that the Idaho State Capitol inspires a certain amount of gravitas and old-world romance.
- From the Rotunda, visitors can look upward to see 13 small stars representing the original American colonies, and 43 larger stars, symbolizing that Idaho was the 43rd state in the union.
- Underground tunnels connect the Idaho State Capitol building to the Supreme Court and other adjacent government buildings. These tunnels are used daily by legislative members but are not open to the public.
- There is a scale replica of the Liberty Bell on the front steps of the Capitol building and visitors are encouraged to ring the bell.
- According to the Capitol Commission, the original cost of the Idaho State Capitol building was $2.1 million, and comparable estimates for a similar project today exceed $100 million. Many materials used in the original construction of the building are today considered irreplaceable.
- The Idaho State Capitol building is the only one in the U.S. to use geothermal water as a heat source. Like much of Boise, the Capitol building sits on top of geothermal heat and the water is pumped from over 3,000 feet underground.
Capitol Restoration Project
In 1998, Idaho officials began discussing plans to restore the Capitol building after nearly a century of natural wear and tear.
Initial plans were drawn, and a master plan was eventually approved and funded to complete an extensive restoration project. In 2010, interior and exterior renovations were completed, as well as the construction of the additional underground legislative meeting rooms and offices, now known as the Garden Level.
You can see the stars that represent the original 13 American colonies in this evening photo from the Capitol rotunda.
There are several impressive art pieces in the Capitol. The Winged Victory statue is an example of Hellenistic art and is a replica of an original marble statue of Nike of Samothrace. The replica was a gift to the United States from France after World War II.
A statue of George Washington by Charles Ostner stands on the south side of the rotunda, carved from a single piece of pine. The figure was originally bronzed and given to the Idaho territory in 1869, and repaired and covered in gold leaf in 1966.
Other Capitol art includes some modern additions with historical roots: in 2010, when the underground wings were built, multiple old-growth trees had to be uprooted to make way for the new expansion project. Some of the trees had been planted by Presidents Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt.
A forward-thinking legislator, Representative Max Black, arranged for the wood to be given to local artists and turned into objects to display in the Capitol to preserve the trees.
Whether you’re a history buff, a curious citizen, or just looking for another way to experience the great city of Boise, the Idaho State Capitol should be on your list of must-see places.
Lisa Kohl is a top Idaho Realtor and creator of WeKnowBoise.com. From Southeast Boise to the North End, up to Eagle and west to Meridian, or right in the middle of the Boise Bench and downtown - We Know Boise. Whether buying or selling a home, we provide full-service real estate solutions dedicated to helping our clients achieve their goals.
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