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The red-bricked Georgian building in the midst of the 45-acre (18.2-hectare) Independence National Historical Park is one of the most recognizable historical landmarks in the nation, emblematic of the culmination of a series of epoch-making events that led to the birth of an independent America. The place where both the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution of the United States (1787) were signed, the Independence Hall has come to be synonymous with the the ideas of freedom and democracy that the declaration is hinged on, and stands tall on Philadelphia's historic Chestnut Street, flanked by side wings and a steeple. Constructed between 1732 and 1753, the famed Independence Hall was the brainchild of Andrew Hamilton and Edmund Woolley, and also served as the meeting place for the Second Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. The profoundly iconic Liberty Bell is located right around the corner, although its original home was Independence Hall's bell tower.
A jewel of the Independence National Historic Park, the Liberty Bell spans layers and layers of long-standing history. In 1751, William Penn asked that the new bell being cast for the Pennsylvania Statehouse be engraved with the words, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” When the bell first rang to call citizens to the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, little did it know that it was going to change the course of the country forever. It was later dubbed the 'Liberty Bell' by abolitionists, who adopted the bell as a symbol of their fight for freedom for all Americans. A copper-clad, 2,080-pound (940-kilogram) icon of American independence, The Liberty Bell yet serves as a symbol of pride, inspiration and freedom.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art features over 240,000 objects filled with treasures spanning across continents and cultures, drawn from a collection of more than 400,000 works of art like prints, drawings and photographs. The huge stone edifice of the museum, supported by majestic Doric columns, looks over the Schuylkill River. Scale the steps made famous in the 'Rocky' movies.
Few artistic geniuses have captured the human form and condition in sculpture-like Auguste Rodin. Marvel at perhaps his most famous work, The Thinker, and wonder at the introspective nature of man and the might that is thought and creation. The Kiss and other noteworthy sculptures are also on hand including his last work, Gates of Hell. Apart from the French Rodin Musee, the Philadelphia locale is considered the largest collection of his masterpieces.
Gothic and neoclassical influences dominate the features of City Hall. The statue of William Penn that resides atop City Hall's clock tower remains a Philadelphia skyline marker—until the 1980s there was a "gentleman's agreement" that no Philadelphia building would be built higher than the rim of Penn's hat. City Hall provides a majestic backdrop for shoppers and businesspersons alike as it is situated on the intersection of the city's two main arteries, Broad and Market Streets. The tour of the City Hall lasts for 1.5 to 2 hours.
Please Touch Museum is a must-visit when in town. Located in Memorial Hall, it features whimsical installations, interactive exhibits and optical illusions. Create music with your feet by stepping on the Walking Piano, meet characters from Alice in Wonderland, cross rivers in the rainforest and manoeuvre a flying machine. Visitors can attend activities and programs on various topics, from history to science, in an educational yet fun way. Make a pit stop at their Please Taste Café, or attend a folk performance or puppet show at their theatre. A popular attraction among children is their wooden carousel and yearly themed Storybook Ball where their favourite fairy tales come alive.
A working-class Philadelphian himself, Dr Albert Coombs Barnes established the foundation in 1922 to promote appreciation of the fine arts among the common man. Over the years, the Barnes Foundation has procured one of the most noteworthy collections of early French modern and post-impressionist paintings in the world. Works by artists like Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, Picasso and Rousseau are part of the collection. The collection has only toured once and then only a fraction of it was sent out. It is necessary to call ahead for a reserved admission ticket.
This penitentiary was a 19th-century social experiment along with Quaker principles. Complete solitary confinement was the rule, on the theory inmates would use the time for prayer, reflection and penitence. In fact, the loneliness destroyed many and eventually overcrowding led to squalid conditions with no pretence of reform. It finally closed in the 1970s. The degree of infamy Eastern State Penitentiary experienced when in use made Alcatraz pale in comparison. Inmates formerly incarcerated here include arch-criminal Al Capone and bank robber Willie Horton. Although it stands today in crumbling condition, visitors get an eerie feeling when viewing the vaulted cell blocks and central rotunda.
Philadelphia's South Street is home to one of the most remarkable creations of art in the city. Known as the Magic Gardens, this work by artist Isaiah Zagar spans almost an entire block and engulfs everything in sight including the pathways and building walls. The continuously evolving work is a colourful riot and incorporates tiles, bottles, bicycle tires, spokes; pretty much anything you could think of. With this stunning landscape and installations, the artist draws you into his world for a peek into his mind. This one is not to be missed.
Regarded as one of the best Farmers' Markets not only in Philadelphia but in America, The Reading Terminal Market is a terrific place to sample all the culinary grandeur Philadelphia has to offer. Experience the traditional Philly cheesesteak, a custom-made deli sandwich, or an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch hearty home-cooked breakfast prepared by local Amish farmers. Apart from the prepared foods, Reading Terminal Market boasts of over 80 vendors, offering a wide range of local and exotic vegetables, fruits, fresh fish and other seafood, local meats, poultry and other products.