Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 128,284. It is located on the west bank of the Potomac River, six miles south of downtown Washington, DC.
Like the rest of Northern Virginia, as well as southern Maryland, Alexandria has been shaped by its proximity to the nation's capital. It is largely populated by professionals working in the federal civil service, the U.S. military, or for one of the many private companies which contract to provide services to the federal government. The latter are known locally as beltway bandits, after the Capital Beltway, an interstate highway that circles Washington, D.C. One of Alexandria's largest employers is the U.S. Department of Defense. Others include the Institute for Defense Analyses and the Center for Naval Analyses.
Alexandria is home to numerous associations, charities, and non-profit organizations including the national headquarters of groups such as the Salvation Army.
The historic center of Alexandria is known as Old Town. It is a major draw for tourists and those seeking nightlife. Like Old Town, many Alexandria neighborhoods are high-income suburbs of Washington D.C. A 2005 assessed-value study of homes and condominiums found that over 40 percent were in the highest bracket, worth $556,000 or more.
Alexandria landmarks include the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (also known as the Masonic Temple), Gadsby's Tavern, Christ Church, the Little Theatre, the Torpedo Factory, Market Square, Robert E. Lee's boyhood home, the John Carlyle House and the Virginia Theological Seminary. In 2005, Alexandria became one of the first cities of its size to offer free wireless internet access to some of its residents and visitors.
Market Square in Old Town was once the site of the second-largest slave market in the United States. Today it contains a large fountain and extensive landscaping, as well as a weekly farmers' market.