Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of 2009, the city had a total population of 139,966. Located along the Western bank of the Potomac River, Alexandria is approximately six miles (9.6 kilometers) south of downtown Washington, D.C.
Like the rest of northern Virginia, as well as central Maryland, modern 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. In 2005, the United States Patent and Trademark Office moved 7,100 employees from 18 separate buildings in nearby Crystal City into a new headquarters complex in the city.
The historic center of Alexandria is known as Old Town. With its concentration of boutiques, restaurants, antique shops and theaters, it is a major draw for tourists. Like Old Town, many Alexandria neighborhoods are compact, walkable, high-income suburbs of Washington D.C. It is the seventh largest and highest income independent city in Virginia.