- Established in 1819 by none other than Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, the University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, was a huge leap forward in terms of education in the United States.
- The Range
- The Gardens
- Old Cabell Hall
- The Lawn
- The Pavilions and Lawn Rooms
- The Rotunda
- For more information about the University of Virginia, I would like to refer to the websites of the Charlottesville Tourist Board and UVA itself.
- If you plan to visit Charlottesville, consider staying at the historic Dinsmore House Inn, the former residence of James Dinsmore, who happened to be the master carpenter for the University of Virginia and Monticello.
Established in 1819 by none other than Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, the University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, was a huge leap forward in terms of education in the United States.
It was a game-changing institution, its first Board of Visitors including prominent figures in American history such as Thomas Jefferson himself, James Madison and James Monroe. Monroe was the President of the United States at the time.
The university was designed by Jefferson, who made the library the focal point of the campus, a feature wasn’t too common at a time when churches and other religious buildings were the very center of many institutions. (Jefferson, incidentally, was also responsible for separating church and state in his home state of Virginia.) This emphasis on books and knowledge rather than the then-common religion-based education was put in words by Jefferson as “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.” It was nothing short of revolutionary.
That library, a striking building, is known as the Rotunda. It is the main building on the Lawn, a large rectangular green area flanked by pavilions, colonnades and student rooms. This complex was referred to by Jefferson as the “Academical Village”, a place of such cultural and historical significance that it was declared World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987 (along with Monticello, Jefferson’s former house, also located in Charlottesville).
As prestigious as it was at its founding, the University of Virginia remains one of the very best universities in the United States.
Visiting the University of Virginia in 2 Hours
While you wouldn’t have any trouble spending a day or two exploring the grounds of the University of Virginia, or UVA, and not get bored, it’s also entirely possible to see most of the highlights in two hours.
Almost all major attractions are located in or around the Academical Village—that area simply is the star attraction. By walking around the Academical Village, a convenient loop, you’re able to take in all of the following highlights.
The Range is made up of a couple of rows of students rooms that parallel the Lawn along its length. These student rooms are still inhabited by students, although some of the larger ones function as meeting spaces. Room 13 on the West Range used to be Edgar Allen Poe’s room for a while and is set up as a display room—you can peak through the glass window and see what such a room looks like from the inside.
In between the Range and the Lawn Rooms lie the Gardens. The main feature of those, besides the fact that they all have a different design, is the serpentine brick walls that enclose them. Jefferson, a gardener himself, considered having green spaces an essential part of his university.
Old Cabell Hall
Old Cabell Hall stands at one of the far ends of the Lawn—opposite the Rotunda, if you will. It houses a large auditorium with remarkably good acoustics, which is the reason that it’s a popular venue for concerts and lectures. Although this building wasn’t designed by Jefferson, but by Stanford White, it still is an important part of the Academical Village.
With a name that couldn’t possibly make more sense, the Lawn is the grassy area enclosed by the Pavilions and Lawn Rooms, and by the Rotunda and Old Cabell Hall. This beautifully peaceful area is dotted with trees and is a popular lunch spot and meeting place among students. This is also where graduation ceremonies are held.
The Pavilions and Lawn Rooms
The 10 Pavilions and 54 Lawn Rooms that flank the Lawn on its longest sides are where the best students of the university are allowed to live. The Pavilions each boast a different design, showcasing a specific architectural style. The Lawn Rooms are nothing short of prestigious—each school year, fourth-year students apply to receive the honor of living in one of these historic rooms. Lacking indoor plumbing, they’re not particularly convenient living spaces, but it’s the prestige that comes with being permitted to live there for a year that makes them so attractive.
The Rotunda is the focal point of the Academical Village, designed by Jefferson to be the very centerpiece of the University of Virginia. After a couple of redesigns and restorations (one of which is happening now and will be completed this upcoming summer), the Rotunda now (again) looks very much like Jefferson intended it. It’s one of the most well-known buildings in the United States and is renowned around the world.
For more information about the University of Virginia, I would like to refer to the websites of the Charlottesville Tourist Board and UVA itself.
To finish off, I would like to point out the following.
After writing the American Declaration of Independence, drafting the law on religious freedom in Virginia, serving as the country’s Minister to France and its very first Secretary of State, helping with the Louisiana Purchase and setting up the legendary Lewis and Clarke Expedition, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia as a retirement project—basically to keep himself occupied after retiring—you know, just because he could.
That just boggles my mind.
Jefferson himself had this to say about his retirement project:
This institution of my native state, the hobby of my old age, will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of its contemplation.