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Monticello (1768- ) is the house of Thomas Jefferson, the third American president. It is in Virginia near Charlottesville on the top of a “little mountain” (what Monticello means in Italian). It is the house you see on the back of nickels (the American five-cent coin). What you do not see on the nickel is the wonderful view it has.

Jefferson and his friend Dabney Carr went to the top of the mountain as boys. They promised each other that they would be buried under an oak tree there (they were). Jefferson liked the place so much that he built his house there, amid the oaks.

Jefferson designed the house in 1768. From then till 1809 he, his white workers and black slaves worked on it. It seems he was always working on it. When Jefferson left for Europe in 1784 the house was more or less done, but his five years in Europe gave him new ideas. When he got back he tore down a lot of it and rebuilt it.

The house is Italian on the outside in the style of Palladio and English on the inside. The cooking was French.

Apart from the windows from Europe, the house is mostly built from materials from the mountain itself.

The estate had about 2000 hectares and 150 slaves, including Sally Hemings.

The dome, the rounded part of the roof, was not added till 1800. It is a lot more evident on the nickel than it is in real life when you are on the ground looking up at it. When you enter the house you have no idea that it is there. (I was there in 2006.)

When you walk in you come into a waiting area. Above the door is a clock that tells not only the hour and minute but also the day of the week. While you wait you can look at the bones of monstrous creatures that once lived there in a lost age.

His book room held thousands of books. Most of the books you see are copies of the books it once had. The originals were sold off long ago to help settle Jefferson’s debts. A few books, though, are left: the Don Quixote that he learned Spanish from, his Ariosto, Virgil, Plutarch and some others. He has a lot of law books and books in French.

Next to his library is his office and next to that his bed, which seems too short (as do others from that period).

There is an eight-sided room where James Madison and his wife often slept. The bed is set in the wall in the French style of the time.

The house is full of paintings, clocks, fireplaces and windows – but not many curtains! On the wall of his living room are paintings of his three heroes: Newton, Bacon and Locke.

The steps going up to the second floor are very narrow – to save space in the house. They let people see the second floor only two nights a week. You have to sign up on the Internet for it.

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