A visit to the Cathedral of Learning. September 3, 2009Posted by krbradford in National Register of Historic Places.
I had intended to visit all the historic sites on my list in alphabetical order, but my boyfriend and I found ourselves looking for something to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon last weekend. High on our list of sightseeing tasks in Pittsburgh was a tour of the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning – and seeing as how the Cathedral is on my list anyway, I figured it couldn’t hurt to go a little out of order. 🙂
I’ve been to the Cathedral, as it’s known here in Pittsburgh, countless times, as I have taken university courses here on several different occasions. It’s part of the University of Pittsburgh campus, and it’s famous for being the second-tallest university building in the world (42 stories, or 535 feet tall). It was started in 1926 and finally completed in 1937, and local lore states that the beautiful Gothic-style Commons Room on the ground floor was the last area of the building to be completed. I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of that info, but this photo seems to show it might be true.
Truthfully, when I moved to Pittsburgh, I found the Cathedral to be an eyesore. It’s much taller than the buildings around it, and I’m still not sure that such a tall, lean building lends itself to Gothic-style architecture. The building was created to form a happy marriage between beautiful Gothic architecture and the modern skyscraper. Whether it has done that successfully or no, I can’t say, but you can’t deny it’s an impressive building.
You certainly can’t deny the coolness of the Nationality Rooms, either. There are currently 27 rooms, with 8 proposed additional rooms. They are museum-quality representations of the typical architecture, furnishings, and decor of the nation they represent. Each room took anywhere from 3 to 10 years to complete, were created by a colloboration of skilled artisans and architects from their respective nations, and many of the materials came from the native area – in some cases, the entire room was built overseas and shipped in pieces to Pittsburgh.
Even cooler still, 25 of the 27 rooms are functional classrooms, used every day by professors and students for university courses. As a student, you can often stroll down the hallway and peek into a room and see the beautiful decor of Norway or Japan. Anyone can tour the rooms every day for only 3 dollars, which I think is amazing, since each room cost about 300,000 of today’s dollars during the height of the Great Depression. They are rife with beauty, quality, and history, and I think the tour is a real gem in Pittsburgh that is often overlooked.
If you’re far away from Pittsburgh, you can take a virtual tour here, complete with 360 panorama views, audiorecordings and representative music – but it doesn’t beat a real visit, where you can linger and admire details for only 3 dollars.
You can also enjoy a slideshow of the 211 (!!!!) photos I took during my visit to the Cathedral, the Nationality Rooms, and Panther Hollow Lake – which I’ll talk to you about tomorrow. Be sure to click “Show Info” to read detailed captions about many of the photos.