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Nichols: Capital cities at the hub of a nations identity
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Capital cities serve as the central hub of the government of a country.

Usually the capital was established by an earlier authority (king, dictator, or military conqueror).

The first capital of Russia is the oldest city in that country. It is more than 1,000 years old with an ironic name of Novgorod, "New City." It is about halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg but it was not on a major trade route. When trade expanded, the capital moved south to Kiev, which was located on active trade routes.

Later, when the Mongols captured most of Russia, they moved the capital from Kiev to Moscow, which was closer to their homeland, Mongolia.

Moscow remained Russia’s capital until Peter the Great wanted his capital to be a window on Europe. So he moved the capital from Moscow to his new city, St. Petersburg. After Lenin came to power, he moved the capital back to Moscow. And Moscow is still the capital of Russia.

At the center of the city is the Kremlin, a fortress near the Moscow River enclosing 68 acres. It has four palaces and four cathedrals and the Palace of Congresses, where the Communist Party held its rallies and many concerts were staged there.

Once while I was touring Russia, I had several political chats with our tour guide. She was a devout Communist who thought the whole world would become Communist one day. She said this: "We consider New York to be the real capital of the United States because it is the financial center of your country."

Today, I think some CEOs on Wall Street would agree with her.

China has a long history dating back 10,000 or more years. It has had many capitals over its extensive history. In the 15th century, the Ming dynasty moved its capital from Nanking (southern capital) to Peking (northern capital). This city is now known as Beijing.

During World War II, when the Japanese captured Beijing and the east coast of China, the Nationalist government moved the capital west to Chungking. After the war was over the capital returned to Beijing.

That city has an Imperial complex called the Forbidden City built from 1406 to 1420. It served as the imperial home of 24 Ming and Qing emperors.

In October of 1950 after the Communists won their civil war with the Nationalists, Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China standing in front of the southern wall of the Forbidden City.

It had that name because only the emperor, his wives and concubines, and official eunuchs could enter. The communists made the Forbidden City a museum and opened it to the public after 1950.

After Mao died, he was placed under glass in a mausoleum in the middle of Tiananmen Square

just south of the Forbidden City. That mausoleum resembles the Lincoln memorial in Washington.

That square was the site of the Tiananmen massacre in June 1976.

That square is paved with a million tablets about a foot square, each of which has a number so that government directed demonstrations can be choreographed to present any approved message.

In the United States, we have eight cities in which Congress has met, the most important of which are Philadelphia, New York and Washington.

Our current capital city was deigned by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a young French art student who volunteered to join the American Continental Army in 1776. L’Enfant served with George Washington at Valley Forge and impressed the General with his capabilities. He was wounded in a battle in Savannah, and taken prisoner by the British in Charleston, S.C.

Gen. Washington chose L’Enfant to design our new capital city and said: "... he was better qualified than anyone who had come within my knowledge in this country and indeed in any other. "

Though Washington, D.C., did ultimately follow L’Enfant’s plans of broad diagonal boulevards and numbered and lettered streets with circles at intersections with the boulevards, the plans were controversial. L’Enfant was buried in several locations, but finally rests in Arlington National Cemetery as the designer of the master plan for our nation’s capital.

Although L’Enfant’s circles make driving through Washington a bit difficult, they do give space for statues and parks where children can play on sunny days.

I am biased, but I think our nation’s capital is the most beautiful of all national capitals. I love to visit D.C., especially when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly on Mondays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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