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Due to its spellbinding architecture and sheer grandeur, Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is a must-visit place on the list of every tourist in Philadelphia. This beautiful cathedral is the centerpiece of one of the largest Catholic populations in North America. It was designed by celebrated architect Napoleon LeBrun and constructed between 1846 and 1864 by blending Palladian and Italian Renaissance architectural styles. A beautiful “baldachin” or “canopy” over the altar is evidence of the Italian influence while the church façade is in the Palladian style. In fact, you may be forgiven for thinking you are in Europe while viewing this glorious cathedral. Embark on an audio tour and learn more about its eight chapels, 2000-seat sanctuary, vaulted copper dome, and a spectacular apse featuring red marble carvings and stained glass work. During the tour, you will also be familiarized with the fascinating history of the basilica. As Pennsylvania's largest Catholic church, this monument is recorded in the National Register of Historic Places.
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 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.
The National Constitution Center is dedicated to the research and education of the United States Constitution among the masses. This museum curates an unrivaled collection of exhibits, relics and multimedia displays that offer an avid glimpse into the country's rich heritage. Explore their interactive exhibitions, view the replica of the Emancipation Proclamation and acquaint yourself with the American War of Independence. Play make-believe by recording your voice while reading the Presidential Oath of Office and rub shoulders with 42 bronze statues of the pioneers of the constitution. Visitors can also admire model government buildings and photographs of Pulitzer award recipients, print their own news and play a game of trivia. This complex is also home to the Annenberg Center for Education and Outreach.
Though William Penn left the Anglican Church to become a Quaker, he practiced religious tolerance. The Anglicans built this 1727-44 beautiful structure, based on Christopher Wren's designs in London. There are still services on Sundays and holy days, plus architectural tours. George Washington's seat is marked by a plaque. The Christ Church burial ground, the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin and his family, is at the corner of 5th and Arch Streets.
When it opened in 1829 Eastern State Penitentiary was one of the largest prison facilities built in the country. The penitentiary experimented with previously unheard ideas of incarceration that prioritized reformation over punishment. A form of solitary confinement was the rule, on the theory inmates would use the time for prayer, reflection and penitence. Despite the cost and efforts taken, the system was not a success and numerous challenges finally led it to close in the 1970s, but not before inspiring numerous similar prison systems around the world. Inmates formerly incarcerated here include arch-criminal Al Capone and bank robber Willie Horton. Although it stands today in crumbling condition, visitors will find it fascinating to explore the vaulted cell blocks and central rotunda.