“The City Having Real Foundations”
EVERY city has foundations, so if one is described as having real foundations, it must be of a very permanent nature indeed. Ancient capital cities, such as Babylon, Petra, Ashur, and Teotihuacán, would hardly fit that description. Once vibrant and full of the sounds of people, these cities are today dead and enveloped in silence. So are the nations they represented.
Modern national capitals are generally also quite sure of their foundations. They may not always be the largest cities in their respective countries, but the fact that a city serves as its nation’s capital endows it with a prominence independent of its size. Let us look at four examples.
In 1790 the U.S. Congress decreed that the nation’s permanent seat of government should not be within the borders of any one existent state. So a special enclave called the District of Columbia was formed for that purpose. Located on the eastern seaboard of the United States in the District of Columbia, the city of Washington is not to be confused with the state of Washington, which lies on the Pacific coast thousands of miles northwest of the national capital.
The original design, completed in 1791 by French engineer Pierre L’Enfant, called for an elaborate system of public parks and open spaces to serve as a backdrop against which the Capitol and the other federal buildings could be displayed to best advantage. The presidential residence itself was eventually designed by Irish architect James Hoban. Its white-gray sandstone stood out in such contrast with the red brick buildings nearby that it was soon dubbed the White House, a name that was officially adopted in 1902.
By any criterion Washington is unique. Federal buildings, plus more than 300 memorials and statues, adorn this part-time home of hundreds of politicians. And according to one source, home of at least 55,000 lawyers and 10,000 journalists!
Washington, it has been said, “reflects the worst and best of America.” The worst includes the problems with which all U.S. cities are plagued: unemployment, pollution, crime, substandard housing, and racial tension, to name but a few. Washington is, as a noted reference work calls it, “a somewhat schizophrenic metropolis as notorious for its ugliness and crime as it is famous for its diverse and truly awesome beauties.”
A Third Rome?
Until recently, Washington and Moscow had little more in common than a White House—the headquarters building of the Russian republic was also given this nickname because of its marble facade—and an excellent subway system called the Metro.
The Moscow Metro is fast and inexpensive, with a beauty seldom found in subways. As of August 1993, the fare for a trip, regardless of length, was the equivalent of about one U.S. cent. Some stations were built of marble and contain impressive pictures, statues, and colorful frescoes on the ceilings. Unusually fast escalators whisk riders from surface to trains and back.
Moscow is one of Russia’s oldest cities, founded in 1147, according to tradition. In the 15th century, it became capital of a newly formed unified Russian state, a position it lost, however, in 1712 to St. Petersburg. Two centuries later, in 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution, Moscow regained its position as capital of Russia and became capital of the new Soviet Union as well.
The Kremlin, for decades symbolic of Communism and the hub to which Moscow clings, is bordered on the east by Red Square.
At the southern end of Red Square is the Cathedral of St. Basil, built in the mid-16th century by Czar Ivan IV, better known as Ivan the Terrible. Its design and bright colors are unique. Tradition says that the architect who built it was blinded afterward to prevent him from creating anything like it again.
Politics and religion held hands behind Kremlin walls for centuries—of which the cathedrals located there are mute witnesses, especially after Moscow became the center of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1326. Moscow later became known as the “Third Rome,” and “the Russians became convinced that they stood in a special place—in God’s favor as the final preserver of religious truth.” But the mausoleum in Red Square, where Lenin has lain embalmed, and the tombs of other Communist atheists in the Kremlin wall belie this claim.
Capital of Hope?
The idea of locating a capital in the interior of Brazil was expressed as early as 1789 and even incorporated in the constitution in 1891. Still, it was not until 1956 that a site was chosen. Four years later Brazil’s federal government began a 600-mile [1,000 km] trek from Rio de Janeiro to reach its new home.
That an entire city was constructed in such a comparatively short time was remarkable. Many Brazilians proudly regarded it as a symbol of the future greatness of their nation. They praised it as the most modern capital in the world, calling it a “capital of hope.” Brasília has impressive modern architecture, and its orderly development makes it an outstanding example of large-scale city planning.
“The purpose of Brasília,” says The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “was to focus attention on the interior of the country and to hasten settlement of the region and the development of its untapped resources.” To a degree these objectives have been achieved. But like Washington, whose metropolitan area is now 40 times as large as the District of Columbia, Brasília has grown. Instead of the 600,000 for which it was designed, over 1,600,000 people now live there and in surrounding satellite cities. In some sections life is less than ideal.
In certain respects even the positive aspects of the city have proved to be drawbacks. “The character of Brasília,” notes National Geographic magazine, “falls somewhere between a sculpture garden and a lunar colony.” Das Bild unserer Welt (A Picture of Our World) notes: “Up until now it has been impossible to breathe urban life into Brasília, the new capital. Instead, in this test-tube city, occultism, esoteric groups, and sects have blossomed as scarcely anywhere else—a reaction of the people to emptiness and loneliness.”
Thus, “the capital of hope” clearly has certain weaknesses. Its rather cold, sterile atmosphere and its wide-open spaces—generally so welcome in large cities—are especially noticeable when politicians and white-collar workers desert the city on weekends and holidays.
High in the Mountains
Eight of the ten highest mountains in the world lie either partially or wholly within the borders of Nepal. Thus, it is not surprising that its capital is located over 4,300 feet [1,300 m] above sea level. As big cities go, Kathmandu’s population of some 235,000 is moderate. For each of its inhabitants, over 80 other Nepalese citizens live elsewhere.*
The capital lies in Kathmandu Valley, which in ancient times was a lake. The size of the valley, some 12 by 15 miles [19 by 24 km], is no measure of its importance. For centuries it was a powerful trading center on major routes linking India with China and Tibet. Agricultural ground is always at a minimum in mountainous countries, so it is feared that the cities in the valley may grow too large and rob the nation of valuable fertile land. This fear is not unwarranted. Kathmandu’s population has more than doubled since 1960. Estimates are that by the year 2020, about 60 percent of the valley may be lost to urban sprawl.
Kathmandu, Nepal’s only major city, has long played a leading role in the social, economic, and political matters of the nation, as well as in religious matters. The Encyclopedia of Religion notes that Kathmandu Valley “has seen a succession of sophisticated ideologies and art styles with strong religious overtones. . . . In no other part of the Himalayan region are Buddhism and Hinduism as closely entwined.” It is of interest that the probable birthplace of Siddhārtha Gautama, who later came to be called the Enlightened One, or the Buddha, was Lumbini, Nepal, less than 150 miles [240 km] southwest of Kathmandu.
This was, of course, approximately 2,500 years ago. More recently, in the 1960’s, others also came to Nepal and Kathmandu for “enlightenment,” members of the hippie generation.
A City With Real Foundations
For centuries humans have built cities from which to rule their fellowmen. But the tragic lesson that history has taught is that “it does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step” correctly.—Jeremiah 10:23; Ecclesiastes 8:9.
It is apparent that cities are in serious trouble. They are struggling to survive, even as are the political systems they represent. The shaky foundations of human rule are crumbling. Not so, however, for “the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God.”—Hebrews 11:10.
The Bible calls this city heavenly Jerusalem. (Hebrews 12:22) Appropriately so, since Jerusalem was the earthly capital of ancient Israel, God’s typical nation. But heavenly Jerusalem, as capital of God’s universal organization, has a real foundation, for its Builder is the eternal God himself. Psalm 46:5 prophetically says: “God is in the midst of the city; it will not be made to totter.”
Human rule is tottering to its end. In recognition of this fact, millions of individuals “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” are eagerly and wisely submitting themselves to divine rule.—Psalm 47:8; Revelation 7:9, 10.
Remember, New Jerusalem is higher than mountainous Kathmandu, for it is in heaven itself. And the “river of water of life, clear as crystal,” that flows through New Jerusalem is purer and more efficacious than the Potomac River at Washington or the Moscow River alongside the Kremlin. (Revelation 22:1, 2) Far from producing any feelings of emptiness and loneliness, New Jerusalem is God’s means to ‘satisfy the desire of every living thing.’—Psalm 145:16.
How wonderful to know that despite serious problems in the world’s struggling cities, all is not without hope—thanks to “the city having real foundations”!—Last of the series on cities.
In contrast, Managua, Nicaragua, is home to every sixth Nicaraguan, and Dakar, Senegal, to every fourth Senegalese citizen.
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The White House, Washington, D. C.
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St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow, Russia
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Hindu temple, Kathmandu, Nepal