Some name it 'City of Brotherly Love', but to the nationalists it is the 'Birth Place of a Nation' and many Americans call it just 'Philly'.
Formally known as Philadelphia, the capital city of the US State of Pennsylvania, is often overlooked by travel enthusiasts in favour of other east coast star attractions such as New York, Washington DC or Boston. It was no exception with me, till my friends living there insisted that I visit the city, at least to cherish the memoirs of America's freedom movement; they knew my flair for history and I was easily convinced.
Truly the backbone of the city's tourist trade is following the trails of the nation's journey for independence from the colonial rule, all adequately preserved in the Independence National Historic Park.
Located downtown, the highlights of the 45 acres of parkland are the Liberty Bell Centre, Independence Hall, Carpenters Hall, Franklin Court and the City Tavern that attract most of the tourists. The Visitor Centre is an excellent starting point to receive comprehensive information on all of these, before you commence your itinerary.
As an ardent follower of "liberty", my first stop is obviously the Liberty Bell Centre, easily identifiable by the serpentine like long queue long outside the building, which exhibits the famous bell that tolled for the freedom of America's people. The bell was brought from England in 1752 as the original Pennsylvania State House bell. It has an inscription which I read with interest - "proclaim throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants there of". These eternal words inspired the millions in 1830s, who were fighting hard to abolish the practice of human slavery. The activist group used the image of the bell in their literature, referring it as Liberty Bell and that is how the name immortalized. The bell cracked after it rung the first time. Despite several recasts, it never produced the original jingle and remains as a silent icon of freedom.
The Pennsylvania State House, which later became the Independence Hall is like a shrine to Americans - it's the birth place of their nation. I take a guided tour of that site. As I stand in the Assembly Hall of this 1732 built Georgian architecture, my mind goes down the pages of history to 4 July 1776 when great early Americans- George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others joined their hands together in here to adopt the Declaration of Independence. "They risked everything- their lives, fortune and their sacred honour for freedom" voice our tour guide. Most of the furnishings are period pieces - the only originals in the room are the rising sun chair used by George Washington and inkstand that was used to sign the immortal declaration, standing today as silent witness of the glorious occasion. .
As I gaze around the building from one corner to the other, I find more of history to enthuse when thinking of George Washington's appointment as the Commander of Chief in 1775 or the senators debating over the design of the new flag in 1777 and arguing over the drafting of the new constitution in 1787.It all happened in one of the many rooms within the four walls of this building.
America's journey towards freedom from the colonial rule however started in Boston in 1773 with the famously known Boston Tea Party, when 150 men thinly disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded three East India Company ships and dumped chests of tea into the harbor in protest against the King Georges discriminatory policies with regard to selling of tea in the American colonies.
This was the first step towards the America's eventual break with the English rule, which sparked the summoning of the Continental Congress sessions for the colonies to unite and prepare for declaration of independence. Philadelphia, founded by English Quaker William Penn in 1682, was the logical choice as it was then America's wealthiest and best-appointed city. Famous American painter of the time, named early Philadelphia as the "Athens of America", another thoughtful name for the city of many names. With amazing speed it had grown from William Penn's "green countrie towne" of the 17th century to a thriving river port and largest city of British North America
The first congress was held in 1774 at a building called the Carpenters' Hall. It was built in 1770 as a meeting venue for a group of master builders and now share similar glory as the adjacent Independence Hall; it being the venue where the seed for formalized separation from the Crown was planted.
By now I am tired, hungry and desperate for a drink. My guide directs me to the City Tavern which is an authentic recreation of the 18th century pub where founding fathers of America relaxed with a drink after a hot debate on the fate of fledgling America. The ambience and dÃ©cor of the place surely dumps me to the bygone era, so does the menu with unheard dishes like turkey potpie or the pork loin oatmeal stout.
Regaining energy after lunch it's time to visit the nearby Franklins Court, which is a tribute to Benjamin Franklin, the runaway boy from Boston who made endless contributions for this city. In fact he was the leader of the city's many scientific and artistic movements. In his name is the Benjamin Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River. A landmark of the city this third longest suspension bridge in the world connects Philadelphia with New Jersey The underground museum is filled with numerous articles that relate to his life and his inventions such as a stove and a unique musical instrument featuring a set of bowls. Franklin was once the postmaster general and visitors can glimpse the Postal Services Museum and Post Office.
Getting There - Best Option is to fly Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) via Singapore to New York from where Philadelphia, 130 km away, is well connected by rail and road
Accommodation - There is no shortage of hotels and motels to suit your budget; however Holiday Inn Historic District (www.holidayinn.com) is close to the park.
More Information - Check www.visitphilly.com