The Commonwealth of Virginia is a Southeastern state on the Atlantic Coast of the United States. Virginia is the 12th-most populous state in the U.S. with over 7.7 million residents and the 35th largest in area. It is named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was known as the 'Virgin Queen' as she never married. The Virginia Company of London founded the Virginia Colony in 1607 as the first permanent New World English colony, with the hemisphere's oldest legislature. Virginia was one of the thirteen colonies in the American Revolution and part of the Confederacy in the American Civil War.
The capital of the commonwealth is Richmond, though Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. Virginia's cities are connected by the third largest highway system in the nation. Virginia is known as the "The Old Dominion" and sometimes "Mother of Presidents", because it is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents.
Virginia has a diverse economy with several important industries, from the federal government in Northern Virginia and military bases in Hampton Roads to the many agricultural areas. The Historic Triangle includes Jamestown, Yorktown and the living museum of Colonial Williamsburg. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Virginia has an area of 42,774 square miles (110,784 km²) making it the thirty-fifth largest state. Virginia is bordered by Maryland and the District of Columbia to the north and east; by Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the east; by North Carolina and Tennessee to the south; and by Kentucky to the west and by West Virginia to the north and west. Due to a peculiarity of Virginia's original charter, its boundary with Maryland does not extend past the low-water mark of the southern shore of the Potomac River, meaning Maryland the District of Colombia possess the whole width of the river rather than its being split between them and Virginia.
Virginia has many National Park Service units, including one national park, the Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah was established in 1935 and encompasses the scenic Skyline Drive. Almost forty percent of the park's area (79,579 acres/322 km²) has been designated as Wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Other parks in Virginia, such as Great Falls Park and Prince William Forest Park are included in the many areas in the National Park System. Additionally, there are thirty-four Virginia state parks, run by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Department of Forestry. The Chesapeake Bay, while not a national park, is protected by both state and federal legislation, and the jointly run Chesapeake Bay Program which conducts restoration on the bay and its watershed. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is protected by both Virginia and North Carolina.
Most of the state east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, plus the southern part of the Shenandoah Valley, has a humid subtropical climate. In the mountainous areas west of the Blue Ridge, the climate becomes humid continental. Many variations occur because of the state's significant relief. Elevations in Virginia vary from sea level to Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet (1,746 m) above sea level, with major gradations occurring at the edges of the Atlantic Ocean, the end of the Piedmont, and the Blue Ridge and Allegheny chains of the Appalachian Mountains.
The moderating influence of the ocean from the east, powered by the Gulf Stream, also creates the potential for hurricanes near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Cold air masses arriving over the mountains, especially in winter, can lead to significant snowfalls, such as the Blizzard of 1996. The interaction of these elements with the state's topography creates micro-climates in the Shenandoah Valley, the mountainous southwest, and the coastal plains that are noticeably distinct.
Severe weather is a concern in Virginia. Hurricanes make the coastal area of Virginia vulnerable, but it is rare for a major hurricane to threaten the Virginia coast.
The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in Charlottesville works with the National Endowment for the Humanities to improve commonwealth's civic, cultural, and intellectual life. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a state funded museum with multiple branches in Virginia's cities. The museum is home to the largest collection of Fabergé eggs outside of Russia. The Chrysler Museum of Art is home to many pieces, stemming from the Chrysler family collection, including the final sculpture of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Other museums include the popular Science Museum of Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, the Frontier Culture Museum, the Mariners' Museum, and the Art Museum of Western Virginia. Besides these sites, many open air museums and battlefields are located in the state, such as Colonial Williamsburg, Richmond National Battlefield, and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is located in Vienna and is the only national park intended for use as a performing arts center. Wolf Trap hosts the Wolf Trap Opera Company, which produces an opera festival every summer. The Harrison Opera House in the Ghent district of Norfolk is home to the official Virginia Opera. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra is based in Hampton Roads. The American Shakespeare Center is located in Staunton, and home to resident and touring theater troupes. Other notable theaters include the Ferguson Center for the Arts, the Barter Theatre, and the Landmark Theater.
Besides native music, like Piedmont blues, bluegrass, and the traditional mountain music of Appalachia, Virginia has also launched many internationally successful popular music acts. Hip hop acts like Missy Elliott, Timbaland, The Neptunes, Chris Brown, and Clipse hail from the commonwealth. As does Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, and jam bands like the Pat McGee Band and Dave Matthews Band, who continue their strong charitable connection to Charlottesville, Virginia. Influential stage-rock group GWAR also began in Virginia, at Virginia Commonwealth University. Major performance venues in the state include The Birchmere, Nissan Pavilion, the Patriot Center, and the Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater.
Many counties and localities host county fairs and festivals. The Virginia State Fair is held at the Richmond International Raceway every September. Fairfax County sponsors the Celebrate Fairfax! Festival the second weekend after Memorial Day. In Virginia Beach, the end of September brings the Neptune Festival, celebrating the city, the waterfront, and regional artists.
On the Eastern Shore island of Chincoteague the annual Pony Swim & Auction of the feral Chincoteague Ponies on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July is a unique local tradition which has expanded to a week long carnival. The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is a six day festival held annually in Winchester that includes parades and bluegrass music concerts. From 2005 to 2007, Richmond was chosen as host of the National Folk Festival. The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival is held over four days in May in Reston.
Two important film festivals, the Virginia Film Festival and the VCU French Film Festival, are held annually. Annual fan conventions in the commonwealth include Anime USA, the national anime convention held in Crystal City, Anime Mid-Atlantic held in various cities, and RavenCon, a science fiction convention in Richmond.
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