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Concierge.com's insider take:
Most of Washington, D.C.'s must-see monuments are clustered on the western end of the National Mall, so it's possible to see them all in one day. Construction of the Washington Monument progressed in fits and starts throughout the 19th century, which is why the stone on the top half of the tower is a different color than that on the bottom. (Editor's Note: Due to structural damage from the earthquake on August 23, 2011, the interior of the Washington Monument has been temporarily closed to the public.)
At the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, the National World War II Memorial pays homage to the 16 million who served, and a wall of 4,000 gold stars marks the 400,000 soldiers who gave their lives in this war. Fifty-six granite pillars signify the unity of the states and territories, and 24 bas-relief sculptures recall significant battles in the conflict (17th St. and Independence Ave. N.W.). Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial design, chosen in a national competition, comprises two black granite walls angled into a V inscribed with the names of the 58,000 soldiers who died in the nation's longest war. Families and friends make pilgrimages here to touch their loved ones' names or to make rubbings on paper.
At the western end of the Reflecting Pool, Daniel Chester French's imposing marble sculpture of Lincoln is the focal point of the Lincoln Memorial. Flanking the statue are murals depicting Lincoln's achievements and inscriptions from his Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address. It was on the second step here that Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963; look for an inscription on the spot where King stood (Independence Ave. and 23rd St. N.W.).
On the shores of the cherry treelined Tidal Basin sit the FDR Memorial and the adjacent Martin Luther King Memorial. The former remembers Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration with sculptures spread throughout a garden, including one of the president in a wheelchair, a rare image even now. The latter, opened in 2011, honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a 30-foot granite statue of the civil rights hero and a wall inscribed with excerpts from his famous speeches (W. Basin Dr. S.W.).
Farther south on the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial commemorates the author of the Declaration of Independence (and the nation's third president) with a towering statue in a rounded neoclassical structure, along the lines of the Pantheon in Rome (Ohio Dr., between the Tidal Basin and Potomac River).