Salt Lake City, the capital and largest city of the US state of Utah, is located on the southeastern shores of the Great Salt Lake. It was founded in the middle of the 19th century by the Mormon prophet Brigham Young, who brought his religious community here to the promised land. To this day, Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the Mormon Church.
Welcome to Deseret State
The Shoshone, Ute and Paiute Indian tribes were the original inhabitants of the area where present-day Salt Lake City is located. Europeans arrived in these places only in the middle of the 19th century. It was 1847 when a group of 148 Mormons led by Brigham Young (1801-1877) came to the shores of the Great Salt Lake from Missouri. Young was the second president of the Mormon Church, specifically The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These people settled here and founded the city, whose agglomeration today has around 2 million inhabitants (around 183 thousand inhabitants live in the city itself). Originally, the Mormons who settled in Salt Lake City wanted to establish an independent state called Deseret, but the central American government in Washington finally decided on the creation of the state of Utah, of which Salt Lake City has been the capital since 1896.
Everything must be in order
The city that the Mormons created had a regular checkerboard structure. Main streets always ran either north to south or east to west. Only at the end of the 19th century were urban districts built with an irregular floor plan. At that time, the Mormon Church no longer had such control over the development of the city. Another expansion of the city outside its original uniform character occurred in 1869, when the first transcontinental railroad was built connecting California and the Pacific coast to the eastern United States. This new and fast mode of transportation caused new and new settlers of various religious faiths to move into Salt Lake City. Today it is a multicultural metropolis where people of different races and religions live, but it remains the unofficial headquarters of the Mormon Church. Today, however, only 30% of the city’s population are Mormons (while 70% of the population in Utah claims to belong to this church). And it is the connection of city administration, public life and politics with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is currently the main problem of Salt Lake City.
A bit of geography
According to Iamaccepted, Salt Lake City is located in the northeastern part of the Salt Lake Valley, which is bordered on one side by the Great Salt Lake and on the other by the high Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains. The landscape is dominated by the 3,452-meter-high Twin Peaks, which is part of the Wasatch mountain range, which belongs to the Rocky Mountains. The Jordan River, which flows through the city, flows into the Great Salt Lake, which has an area of 4,400 square kilometers (however, the area fluctuates depending on the rainfall) and we find 13 named islands on it. The lake has no outlet, it has only three tributaries – the aforementioned Jordan River and the Bear River and the Weber River. The metropolis is separated from the lake itself by wetlands, which are home to diverse flora and fauna.
Open to tourists
Today, Salt Lake City has a lot to offer tourists – it is rich in cultural life, has interesting architecture and is also a popular sports base. It became famous worldwide, especially as the venue for the Winter Olympics in 2002. Large fairgrounds and palaces were built here, and trade fair and congress services are also flourishing. The city is also home to many museums and galleries, as well as a number of universities. Salt Lake City pleasantly surprises every visitor with its cleanliness and tranquility. There is a certain order and a friendly atmosphere is felt everywhere.
Thanks to the original regular checkerboard structure of the streets, orientation in the city is relatively easy. The center of the city is Temple Square, which covers an area of 40,000 square meters and houses the complex of the most important buildings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The square is surrounded by a 5-meter wall, but anyone can enter the area. Non-believers will be taken in by the Mormon Sisters, who will guide you through the square and answer questions about their faith. Even tourists have free access almost everywhere, the only exception is the main cathedral of the Salt Lake Temple – only church members can enter it.
The Salt Lake Temple is the largest temple of this religious movement (about 130 were built in the world). The temple was built right on the spot where Brigham Young decided to stay and found a new city on July 28, 1847. The foundation stone of this unique building with dimensions of 57 x 36 meters was laid on August 6, 1853, and the construction itself lasted 40 long years – it saw its grand opening in 1893. The author of the project of the Neo-Gothic granite temple, which has 5-meter-thick walls and covers an area of 4 hectares, was Trutman O. Angell. The temple is decorated with 6 towers rising to a height of 64 meters. At the top of one of the towers is a nearly 14-foot-tall bronze statue of an angel holding the Book of Mormon. It has the same value in this church as the Bible in Christianity or the Koran in Islam.
More Mormon Treasures
In addition to the Salt Lake Temple, Temple Square is home to a number of smaller Mormon churches and buildings used for religious gatherings. This is, for example, the Tabernacle, where the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir trains. The building from 1864-1867 houses the organ, which with its 11,623 pipes is one of the largest in the world. Another interesting building is the Assembly Hall, which has a cross-shaped floor plan and is complemented by 24 turrets. It was built in the Victorian Gothic style and hosts weekly concerts. Near the entrance to the Assembly Hall stands the Seagull Monument, which was erected in 1913 to commemorate the event Mormons call the “Miracle of the Gulls”. In 1848, a flock of seagulls is said to have saved Mormon pioneers’ crops when swarms of voracious locusts descended on their fields. Two visitor centers are also part of the Temple Square area. In the northern North Visitor’s Center there are two art galleries, an interactive model of Jerusalem and a four-meter statue of Christ made of white marble. In the southern South Visitor’s Center, it is possible to learn a lot of interesting things about the construction of the Salt Lake Temple and view a cross-section of the building model.
One of the most important gathering places for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the LDS Conference Center, which is already located outside of Temple Square. It was completed in 2000 to mark the 170th Mormon General Conference. It can accommodate up to 21,000 worshipers, and on the stage you can admire the organ with a total of 7,667 pipes. The building includes a theater for 900 people and a parking lot with 1,400 spaces. Daylight enters the interior through ceiling windows. On the roof of the center there is a garden with ponds, water fountains, a waterfall and places to sit and relax. If you’d like to commemorate the early Mormon colonists, head to the park with the unusual name This is the Place, which houses a statue of Brigham Young and also features an open-air museum with replicas of historic buildings Mormons built in town.
Inspired by Greece
Notable public buildings in Salt Lake City include the Old City Hall from 1864, the existing Regional and City Administration Building from 1894 built in the neo-Romanesque style, as well as the Neoclassical Capitol built between 1912 and 1916. The Capitol was built on top of Capitol Hill according to the architect’s design Richard KA Kletting. The building is reminiscent of the Greek Pantheon – it is flanked on the side by Corinthian columns and covered by an 87-meter-high dome. In the interior, you can see paintings and sculptures related to the history of the American state of Utah. Today, the Capitol is home to the Utah State Supreme Court, Senate, and House of Representatives.
What else not to miss
Interesting Mormon-related structures in Salt Lake City include two residences built in the 19th century. These are the Lion House and the Beehive House, which belonged to Mormon spiritual leader Brigham Young and his large family. The Prophet had a total of 25 wives and 57 children. Nowadays, one of the residences houses the Museum of Church History, which maps almost 200 years of the existence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those interested in culture and education can visit two more interesting museums in Salt Lake City – the Utah Museum of Art and the Utah Museum of Natural History. Both are located on the campus of the state university.