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World Heritage Sites in the United States

Monticello and the University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia
Jefferson's Monticello. 
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Carol M. Highsmith CollectionFront view of Jefferson's Monticello,
a plantation home in Charlottesville, Va.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Carol M. Highsmith Collection

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was the author of the American Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and a talented architect of neoclassical buildings. He designed his plantation home Monticello and his ideal "academical village" -- the heart of the University of Virginia -- a few miles away. Jefferson's use of an architectural vocabulary based upon classical antiquity symbolizes both the aspirations of the new American republic as the inheritor of European tradition and the cultural experimentation that could be expected as the country matured.

Construction of Monticello began in 1769. The very personal conception of the house clearly shows the various influences experienced by its designer: that of Palladio, evidencing in the perfect proportions of the pedimented porticos, and that of the contemporary neoclassical architecture. The integration of the buildings into the natural landscape, the originality of the plan and design, and the refined proportions and decor make Monticello an outstanding example of a neoclassical work of art. The University of Virginia is an outstanding example of a great educational institution from the Age of Enlightenment.

The University of Virginia was Jefferson's most ambitious and last architectural undertaking. This project departs from preexisting British or American college planning schemes.  Jefferson intended that the university design express educational ideals both encyclopedic and democratic, a fitting legacy for his beloved Virginia and the new United States of America.

In 1809, Jefferson finished the rebuilding of Monticello begun in 1796. He transformed the original eight room Palladian villa, with its tall two-story portico, into a 21-room house designed in the fashionable Neoclassical style he saw in France.  The front elevation was a deceptively low horizontal composition centered on a pavilion dominated by a columned portico and a low dome.  The renovation kept most of the rooms of the original house, but more than doubled its depth.  By moving the front wall forward, Jefferson provided space for two new rooms on either side of a much larger two-story entrance hall.

The interior incorporated many examples of Jefferson’s ingenuity: dumbwaiters, disappearing beds, unusual lighting and ventilating arrangements, a duplicate-writing machine, folding doors, bookshelves that become storage boxes, and an extraordinary clock, which still runs by a series of weights and pulleys.  Closet-like alcoves hid two steep staircases that led to low bedrooms above the high first floor and to a “ballroom” under the dome.  The house lay at the center of a U-shaped plan that embraced two sunken, terrace-covered service wings set into the hillside.  House slaves could do their work in these wings out of sight of the public rooms.  Small temple-like pavilions sit at the ends of the wings.

Jefferson, an avid horticulturist, also created the gardens at Monticello, which were a botanic showpiece, a source of food, and an experimental laboratory of ornamental and useful plants from around the world. He experimented with plant species brought over from Europe and was particularly interested in developing vineyards.

Jefferson was “the penman” of the American Revolution.  His pamphlet, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, written at Monticello and published in 1774, demonstrated his knowledge of the law and his ability to write clearly. Written on behalf of the Continental Congress, this precursor to the Declaration of Independence set forth a list of grievances against the King and argued for the independence of the colonies from British rule. By the time Virginia sent him to the Second Continental Congress two years later, everyone recognized him as a fluent writer and superb legal draftsman.  The committee appointed to draft a declaration of independence in June 1776 selected him to write it.  He submitted his last draft on July 2.  Two days later, Congress adopted the final version of the Declaration of Independence.

During his presidency, in 1803, Jefferson sent a confidential letter to Congress from Monticello requesting funds to finance a “journey of discovery” through the American West. This gave rise to the Lewis and Clark expedition to chart the newly-acquired territory gained through the Louisiana Purchase, a deal with France that Jefferson himself had brokered.

University of Virginia Rotunda. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Carol M. Highsmith CollectionThe UVA Rotunda was designed by Jefferson to be
the heart of the university, containing the library
and surrounded by faculty pavilions and student rooms.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Carol M. Highsmith Collection

Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 as the first nonsectarian university in the United States. He intended the institution to produce leaders well-versed in public service and practical affairs. The University of Virginia is considered one of Jefferson’s greatest achievements, both for its architecture and innovative nature. The first university to use an elective course system, its most recognizable physical symbol is the Rotunda, which Jefferson designed to contain the library and be the heart of the campus. Standing at the north end of the University’s Lawn with its flanking faculty pavilions and student rooms, the Rotunda is based on the Pantheon in Rome. Its Lawn continues to serve as a model for centralized green areas on university campuses. Reconstructed in 1899, after being severely damaged in a fire, the Rotunda retains many of its original Jeffersonian design elements and remains a physical embodiment of his illustrious legacy.

Visitors to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello can explore both the house and extensive grounds. A day pass to the site allows visitors to choose from a selection of guided tours ranging in topic from a standard house tour to a themed “Slavery at Monticello” or “Garden and Grounds” tour. At Monticello’s grounds, guests may visit the estate's historic gardens, walk along Mulberry Row – once the hub of plantation activity – or hike the scenic Saunders-Monticello Trail. The visitor center features a series of museum-style exhibits, a hands-on activity area geared towards younger visitors, and a café whose menu includes seasonally-grown vegetables from the Monticello Vegetable Garden.

A short driving distance from Monticello, the University of Virginia is an active college campus. Guided tours of the university’s famous Rotunda, Academical Village, and Lawns are typically available free for visitors, however, an ongoing renovation project has resulted in the Rotunda’s closure until 2016.

Plan your visit

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a World Heritage Site, and a National Historic Landmark, is located at 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA. Monticello is also a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. Monticello is open daily from 8:30am to 5:00pm March-October, except Christmas. Purchase of tickets is required for access to the site. For more information, visit the Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello website or call 434-984-9800.

The University of Virginia, a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark, is located in downtown Charlottesville, VA. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Tours meet daily at 10:00am, 11:00am, 2:00pm, 3:00pm, and 4:00pm inside the Rotunda’s main entrance, except the Thanksgiving holiday break in November, three-week holiday break in December through January, and the final exam period during the first three weeks of May. For more information, visit the Exploring the University of Virginia and Charlottesville website or call 434-924-7969.

Monticello is also featured in the National Park Service American Presidents Travel Itinerary, Lewis and Clark Expedition Travel Itinerary and Journey Through Hallowed Ground Travel Itinerary. The University of Virginia is the subject of an online lesson plan, Thomas Jefferson’s Plan for the University of Virginia: Lessons from the Lawn. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places website. Monticello has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The University of Virginia has also been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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