The Tidal Basin is a man-made inlet in Washington, D.C., that is the setting of some of the most impressive memorials in the nation’s capital. The basin is particularly popular in early April, when the cherry trees along the banks of the basin are in full bloom.
The basin was created in 1882-1897 to control the water levels of the Potomac and thus prevent the river from flooding. The Tidal Basin is part of Washington, D.C.’s West Potomac Park and is a favorite area for tourists who enjoy a stroll around this attractive inlet.
One of the most magnificent sights of the Tidal Basin area occurs during the early weeks of April, when spring hits the eastern coast of the United States. That’s when D.C.’s famous cherry trees – which line the Tidal Basin – are in bloom. This awesome sight, which prompts a huge festival each year, is the result of some three thousand cherry trees that were a gift to the U.S. from Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki in 1912. About one hundred of these original trees still stand.
During the National Cherry Blossom Festival, visitors can enjoy wonderful concerts and other cultural performances, hear lectures about the trees, enjoy art exhibitions, take a bike tour of the Tidal Basin area, and much more… all with a bit of a Japanese twist.
But a walk around the Tidal Basin is a must even outside the cherry trees’ bloom season: there are no less than five memorials sitting on the banks of the inlet, including some of the city’s most famous.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
The most impressive of these memorials is undoubtedly the Pantheonesque Jefferson Memorial. Located on the south bank of the Tidal Basin, this memorial is dedicated to America’s 3rd president and author of the Declaration of Independence.
This gleaming white, circular-shaped, domed memorial pays homage to the principles of liberty and freedom in which Jefferson so fervently believed. Hence, the classical architecture, a reference to Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Another monument honoring a former president is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, situated on the western edge of the water. Creators of this memorial note that it is not only a
tribute to Roosevelt – who served nearly four terms as President of the United States – but also to the era in general.
Shade trees, waterfalls, and statuary line the path to the 7.5 acre (3 ha) memorial, which opened in 1997. This clever tribute to one of America’s most popular presidents is divided into four “rooms”, highlighting events from each of Roosevelt’s terms.
Martin Luther King Memorial
Just northwest of the FDR Memorial, you’ll find the most recent among the memorials on the banks of the Tidal Basin: the MLK Memorial. This memorial is dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., whose likeness is sculpted in sparkling white stone.
The design of the impressive monument is based on a quote from King’s famous speech ‘I have a dream’: ‘We will be able to hew out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope’. The monument shows a monumental statue of Martin Luther King Jr. standing in front of a mountain. The middle section of the mountain is ‘hewn out’ and moved forward. Quotes from King’s speeches are inscribed on a long granite wall.
George Mason Memorial
There are also two lesser known memorials around the Tidal Basin. On the south bank, not far from the Jefferson Memorial, is the George Mason Memorial. George Mason was an eighteenth-century statesman from Virginia. Mason – like many of his compatriots at the time – was a slave owner, and he owned more than thirty slaves.
He is, however, considered one of the founding fathers of the United States. Hence his memorial, which was dedicated in 2002. The memorial shows Mason, who holds a book in his right hand, sitting on a bench under a pergola. The statue was sculpted by Wendy M. Ross and sits on the edge of a landscaped garden with flower beds arranged around a circular pond.
John Paul Jones Memorial
On the other side of the Tidal Basin, stranded on a small traffic island, stands the statue of John Paul Jones, America’s first naval hero who was a thorn in the side of the British Royal Navy during the American War of Independence.
The bronze statue was created in 1920 by the American sculptor Charles Niehaus. The statue is placed on a pedestal in front of a wall decorated with pilasters and nautical-themed reliefs. At the foot of the memorial are two small fountains with fish-shaped spouts.
Enjoying the Water
When the weather is warm in Washington, DC, visitors can do more than admire the Tidal Basin from afar. Renting a paddle boat is a great way to enjoy the amazing sights of this area. Two- and four-passenger boats are available from May until October. The boats are especially popular during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.