Washington Monument reopens after earthquake repairs

The Washington Monument, one of the US capital's most recognizable landmarks, reopened Monday under dazzling blue skies, three years after sustaining damage from a rare earthquake.

The popular tourist attraction is the US capital city's tallest building at 555 feet (170 meters) -- as well as the world's highest stone structure.

"It's literally a history lesson in marble," NBC television weather man Al Roker said at Monday's reopening ceremony.

The obelisk, built in the 1800s in honor of founding president George Washington, was closed after engineers found 150 cracks in the structure following a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in neighboring Virginia in August 2011.

The structure was covered in illuminated scaffolding for months on end as it underwent $15 million in repairs -- a task completed on time and within budget, according to the National Parks Service.

Half the funding came from Congress, and the other half from financier and self-described "patriotic philanthropist" David Rubenstein, who called his contribution a "down payment" towards repaying a debt to the nation for the success he has enjoyed as an American.

"This enduring spirit of public-private partnerships has made it possible for visitors to once again enjoy the monument and its unmatched view of Washington" said US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a statement.

Military bands played patriotic music and elementary school pupils recounted the monument's history at Monday's hour-long ribbon cutting ceremony.

Public tours resumed after the ceremony, with tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some visitors lined up before dawn to be the first to reach the summit by elevator.

The Washington Monument, completed in 1885, is located in the middle of the National Mall, between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, and affords a commanding view of the city.

The 2011 temblor rattled a large swathe of the US East Coast, a region not usually prone to earthquakes.

It was centered in Louisa County, northwest of Virginia's state capital Richmond, and also caused significant damage to Washington's National Cathedral.