Innovation and culture rock cradle of America

Innovation and culture rock cradle of America

IT'S not the sort of thing you'd expect to find in a city that is known as the cradle of American history.

The floor is made of 93% recycled granite, walls are adorned with sustainable bamboo panels, and furnishings include 100% organically grown cotton and wool free from chemicals.

I had arrived at the newly-opened Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel in Philadelphia's cultural and historic district, which claims to be the first environmentally-smart hotel in the US.

Tables have also been made from recycled shipping pallets and a 40ft-high bamboo garden in the atrium lobby produces oxygen at a 35% higher rate than any other plant, providing diners under the treetop canopy with literally a breath of fresh air.

Believing that 'green' is good for business, the hotel is also operating the first 24hr filtered fresh-air system to all its 193 bedrooms independently of separate heating and cooling units.

It is fitting that the hotel should open in Philadelphia which is known for its firsts. The city that was at the heart of the American Revolution and was where the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, is also home to America's first hospital, bank, stock exchange, post office, newspaper and national mint, among other institutions.

The events, developments and characters which shaped modern US history in this fascinating city are enshrined in its attractions.

Even some of its more traditional hotels bear witness to past glories. A sense of occasion can be had over brunch in the Founders Dining Room at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, now renamed Park Hyatt at the Bellevue.

On the 19th floor of the "Grand Dame", first opened in 1904 and restored a decade ago at a cost of $100m, diners are watched over by sculptures of Philadelphia's Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin and William Penn.

A visit to America's most historic square mile - Independence National Historic Park and the Old City - puts things into perspective. It is here you'll find the Liberty Bell Pavilion, Independence Hall and Congress Hall.

A good narrative sets the scene of more than 250 years ago as you try to retrace history in the dusty, wooden court and congress rooms steeped in memorabilia of the period.

A new permanent exhibition of the park's founding documents will be on display in the west wing of Independence Hall in the autumn, including the final draft of the Constitution, a working copy of the Articles of the Confederation, and the first printing of the Declaration of Independence.

Visitors can now also take part in the Lights of Liberty walkable sound and light show which takes place in the park. The 1hr show immerses you in the drama of the American Revolution with spectacular special effects and high-definition projections cast on the area's historic buildings as you listen to commentaries through 3D sound headsets.

A stone's throw away are the quaint, sleepy Georgian residential streets of Society Hill and the more bustling South Street area, known as Philadelphia's Greenwich Village and a lively nightspot for clubs, restaurants and the increasingly-popular brew-pubs.

The city is also a major centre for music, theatre, the performing arts and culture - and has one of the greatest collections of museums and academies to be found anywhere in the US.


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