Dumbarton Oaks owned by Harvard University is known for its rare books and magnificent gardens

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Marija Georgievska
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Built by the diplomat Robert Woods Bliss, Dumbarton Oaks and its gardens make up one of the most beautiful estates in Washington D.C.

The mansion which was once the residence of Bliss is today partly a museum in which valuable collections of Pre-Columbian and Byzantine art can be seen.

He was a famous art collector who, together with his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss, purchased various rare items from these periods and kept them in their home.

The couple bought the Federal style mansion, which had previously been owned by Colonel Ninian Beall, at the beginning of the 19th century. Over the next two decades, they made significant changes to the whole property.

Robert Woods Bliss was the son of U.S. Attorney William Henry Bliss. He spent his career working as a diplomat for the United States Foreign Service.

Bliss served in many different countries including Russia, Sweden, and Argentina. He collected rare and interesting items from around the world, which can be seen in the first-floor museum of Dumbarton Oaks.

The Dumbarton Oaks mansion, today owned by Harvard University.

The fascination with collecting items came from his wife who as a teenager collected many textiles, paintings, and books. After they got married, they continued to purchase rare items together.

Besides Pre-Columbian and Byzantine art, the Blisses were admirers of French Impressionists, and the collection includes an original painting, Song Rehearsal, by the famous artist Edgar Degas. The piece was bought in 1918 when Degas’ estate was up for sale.

There are also some Renaissance items and the most important piece in the collection is the painting Visitation from the Spanish painter El Greco.

The music room with Renaissance tapestries on the walls.

These paintings are housed in the music room, which is the only place from the former residence of the Bliss family that has been kept in its original state.

Other valuable items are the English furnishings from the 18th century and the unique medieval tapestries which were bought by Bliss on his many travels around the world as a diplomat.

The gardens are filled with many flowers, trees, fountains, and benches. DC Gardens. CC BY 2.0

Mildred was responsible for the landscape. She employed the most prominent landscape designer of that time, Beatrix Farrand, to created the magical gardens which are perfectly preserved to this day.

The work on the gardens lasted for almost 30 years, and Mildred and Farrand worked together on every little detail.

Many different types of trees and flowers surround the fabulous marble fountains, interspersed with benches for visitors from where they can admire this perfect arrangement.

A sunroom in the gardens. Mike Norton. CC BY 2.0

The most visited part of the mansion is the research library. It was established after Bliss donated the estate to the Harvard University in 1940.

Because of the many Byzantine and Pre-Columbian artifacts, the purpose of the library is to encourage more students to enroll in studies of these periods and also to learn gardening and landscape design.

The Fountain Terrace. Passionvine at the English Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0

The vast collection of materials is significant for posterity so there is a great effort to work on the rare books and preserve them.

Following WWII, a meeting known as the Dumbarton Oaks Conference was held at the mansion, at the foundations for the formation of the United Nations were laid.

The mansion is also important for the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, which led to the creation of the United Nations. NCinDC. CC BY-ND 2.0

According to the History Learning Site, delegates from different countries came to the mansion to discuss the possibilities of creating an organization on an international level for maintaining world peace.

Today, the estate houses many events such as weddings, conferences, and tea parties.

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There are strict rules about bringing food and beverages inside, and entry to the mansion is only through the museum.