no mistaking the house with the temple-like west portico and dome on
top. It's on the reverse of the American five cent coin, whose obverse
profiles the face of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United
States. Monticello, Jefferson's beautiful and beloved home, was a
reflection of Jefferson himself with a foundation in the classics,
influenced by the beauty of Europe, yet dedicated to function.
The Mountain and the House
The word monticello is Italian for "little mountain". Thomas Jefferson inherited the 5000-acre plantation, located near Charlottesville, Virginia, from his father in 1764. The first house at Monticello was started in 1768, modeled after the plans of Andrea Palladio, an Italian Renaissance architect. This house had two stories with eight rooms total.
Just as the first house was almost finished in 1784, Thomas Jefferson went to France, where he was to serve as American minister for five years. Jefferson's stay in France influenced his architectural tastes immensely. Revisions and additions to Monticello began in 1804, during Jefferson's first term as President. He had seen the works of Boullee and Ledoux in France and desired to incorporate several of their features, the most prominent being a dome. The upper story was removed, a new second story built, a dome (the first in America) added on top, and an addition to the east front. This extensive revision was finished in 1809. Monticello boasted twenty-one rooms that combined elements from France, Renaissance Italy, and Ancient Rome. Having a house that displayed obvious influences from Roman architecture reflected Jefferson's classical education and desire to associate the new American republic with the republic of Ancient Rome.
Living in the House
Thomas Jefferson planned Monticello to fulfill the ideals of beautiful form and practical function. Entering through the front door, visitors first arrive in the large entry hall. This room became a sort of museum, complete with artifacts, maps and other unusuals to intrigue guests as they waited for their host. One especially interesting feature in the entrance hall is a large clock, designed by Jefferson, that indicates not only time of day, but also day of the week.
Other than a family sitting room, the south section of Monticello was used exclusively by Jefferson for his books, study, and bedroom. While visitors never entered those rooms, they were treated to a large parlor adorned with over forty paintings, a parquet floor, and elegant window treatments, designed in the fashion of French draperies. Monticello's dining room was equipped with a dumb waiter for wine from the cellar below. A tea room also provided a lovely space for serving the two meals of the day.
The rest of the house features guest bedrooms downstairs and family bedrooms upstairs (now used as offices). Visitors may have been puzzled as to the absence of a grand staircase. Jefferson thought they wasted space, yet his beautiful dome room, not open to the public today, seems to have served no specific purpose. The house is also noted for it's abundance of windows and wonderful use of natural light, including several sky lights.
Click here for a virtual tour of Monticello.
Touring the house (as well as the grounds) is included in the price of admission at Monticello, currently $13 for adults, $6 for children 6-11. You may visit Monticello any day except Christmas, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. March through October and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. November through February. Visit Monticello's web site for specific directions and more details.