As the national military command center and headquarters of the Department of Defense, the Pentagon is an iconic structure that attracts many visitors to the Washington D.C. area. But with tight security measures, can you actually tour this famous building?
Read on to learn all about visiting the Pentagon.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, you can visit the Pentagon through free or guided group tours, but you must arrange them well in advance.
Background and History of the Pentagon
The Pentagon, located in Arlington, Virginia, is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. It is an iconic symbol of American military power and serves as the nerve center for the country’s defense operations.
Let’s delve into the fascinating background and history of this monumental structure.
Built During WWII to House Defense Department
The construction of the Pentagon began in 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II. The purpose of this massive building was to provide a centralized location for the various military branches to coordinate their efforts.
The Pentagon was designed to house the offices and administrative spaces for the Department of Defense and its associated agencies.
At the time of its completion in 1943, the Pentagon stood as the largest office building in the world. Its unique five-sided design, conceived by architect George Bergstrom, was chosen to maximize office space while minimizing the building’s footprint.
This innovative design allowed for efficient communication and collaboration between different departments within the building.
World’s Largest Office Building by Floor Space
Even today, the Pentagon holds the title of being the largest office building in the world in terms of floor space. With over 6.5 million square feet of floor area, the Pentagon houses approximately 23,000 military and civilian personnel.
Its vast interior consists of numerous corridors, offices, conference rooms, and even a shopping mall and food court to cater to the needs of its occupants.
The Pentagon’s immense size can be overwhelming, with its five concentric rings connected by ten corridors. Navigation within the building can be a challenge for first-time visitors, but the corridors are color-coded to help people find their way around.
It is said that it takes roughly seven minutes to walk between any two points within the building.
Severe Damage on 9/11 Prompted Reinforcements
On September 11, 2001, the Pentagon became a target in the terrorist attacks that shook the nation. American Airlines Flight 77, hijacked by terrorists, crashed into the western side of the building, causing significant damage and loss of life.
The attack resulted in the destruction of several sections of the building, but the structural integrity of the Pentagon remained intact.
Following the attack, a massive renovation and reinforcement effort took place to repair the damage and enhance the Pentagon’s security. The building was upgraded with blast-resistant windows, strengthened walls, and improved fire prevention systems.
These measures were implemented to ensure the safety and security of the personnel working within the building.
Today, the Pentagon stands as a symbol of resilience and determination. It continues to serve as the nerve center for the United States Department of Defense, playing a crucial role in the country’s national security.
Visitor Options for Guided Pentagon Tours
If you’ve ever wondered whether you can visit the Pentagon, the answer is yes! The Pentagon, located in Arlington, Virginia, offers guided tours to the public. It’s a unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense.
However, there are a few things you need to know before planning your visit.
Book Well in Advance Due to Limited Capacity
Due to security concerns and limited capacity, it’s important to book your guided Pentagon tour well in advance. The Pentagon is a highly secure facility, and they can only accommodate a limited number of visitors each day.
To ensure you secure a spot, it’s recommended to book your tour at least two to three months in advance. This will give you the best chance of getting a tour on your preferred date and time.
Request Tour Through Your Congressman First
If you want to increase your chances of getting a guided tour, it’s recommended to request a tour through your congressman or congresswoman. They often have reserved spots for their constituents and can assist in securing a tour for you.
Contact their office to inquire about the process and provide them with the necessary information to make your request.
Alternatives Include Tour Companies or DOD Tours
If you’re unable to secure a tour through your congressman or congresswoman, there are alternative options available. Some tour companies offer guided tours of the Pentagon, which can be booked directly through them. Another option is to look into tours organized by the Department of Defense (DOD).
The DOD occasionally offers guided tours to the public, providing another opportunity to visit this iconic building.
It’s important to note that regardless of how you secure your guided tour, certain restrictions and security measures will be in place. Visitors will need to pass through security screenings, follow the instructions of their tour guide, and adhere to the rules and regulations set by the Pentagon.
It’s a unique experience that allows you to gain insight into the inner workings of one of the most significant institutions in the United States.
If you’re interested in learning more about visiting the Pentagon, you can visit the official website of the Pentagon Tours Office at https://pentagontours.osd.mil/. They provide detailed information on how to book a tour, what to expect during your visit, and any updates or changes to their tour policies.
What to Expect on a Guided Pentagon Tour
Follow Strict Security Screening Procedures
When visiting the Pentagon, it is important to be aware that strict security screening procedures are in place. This is to ensure the safety and security of the building and its occupants. Visitors will be required to go through a thorough screening process, which may include metal detectors, x-ray machines, and bag checks.
It is advisable to arrive early to allow enough time for these security procedures. Remember to bring a valid form of identification, such as a government-issued ID or passport, as it will be required to enter the premises.
Tours Last Around 60-90 Minutes
A guided tour of the Pentagon typically lasts around 60-90 minutes. During this time, visitors will have the opportunity to explore various areas of the building and learn about its history, architecture, and significance.
Knowledgeable tour guides will provide interesting insights and answer any questions you may have. The tour will take you through the Pentagon’s corridors, courtyards, and possibly even to some of its iconic locations, such as the Hall of Heroes or the 9/11 Memorial.
It is a unique opportunity to get a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the world’s most important military installations.
Photography is Prohibited in Most Areas
While on a guided tour of the Pentagon, it is important to note that photography is generally prohibited in most areas. This is due to security and confidentiality concerns. Visitors are not allowed to take pictures of classified or sensitive information, as well as any military personnel or equipment.
However, there may be designated areas where photography is allowed, so be sure to follow the instructions of your tour guide. If you wish to capture the experience, it is recommended to bring a notebook or sketchpad to take notes or make drawings.
For more information on visiting the Pentagon, you can visit the official website of the Pentagon Tours Program.
Topics and Highlights Covered on Tours
The Pentagon Memorial
One of the most poignant and solemn parts of the Pentagon tour is the visit to the Pentagon Memorial. This memorial, dedicated to the 184 lives lost during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is a must-see for visitors.
The memorial consists of 184 illuminated benches, each representing a victim, arranged in a unique pattern. It serves as a powerful reminder of the tragic events that took place on that day and the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives.
Historical Corridors and Displays
History buffs will be fascinated by the historical corridors and displays found throughout the Pentagon. These areas showcase the rich history and significant events that have taken place within the walls of this iconic building.
From photographs and artifacts to interactive exhibits, visitors can learn about the Pentagon’s role in shaping American military history. Whether you’re interested in World War II or the Cold War era, there is something for everyone to explore and discover.
Food Courts and Shopping Concourse
After an informative and educational tour, visitors can take a break and explore the various food courts and shopping concourse within the Pentagon. These areas offer a wide range of dining options, from quick grab-and-go meals to sit-down restaurants.
Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty burger or a healthy salad, there is something to satisfy every palate. Additionally, the shopping concourse offers a variety of stores and boutiques, where visitors can find unique souvenirs and gifts to commemorate their visit to the Pentagon.
With advance planning and reservation through approved channels, you can visit the storied halls of the Pentagon on a guided tour. This offers a special look at the headquarters of the United States military and a memorial to 9/11 victims.