(CNN) -- If you want to understand who Thomas Jefferson was -- third president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence -- visit Monticello, his majestic mountaintop home in Charlottesville, Virginia.
A variety of tours of Jefferson's estate in Charlottesville, Virginia, are available.
In his bedroom, the bed fills an alcove just off his study. Jefferson didn't like to waste space. The study is crammed with scientific instruments of the day: an astrolabe, a telescope, a model of the solar system, a polygraph for making copies of letters. If Jefferson lived today, he'd likely be the first person to buy a new piece of electronic gear.
In the entrance hall at Monticello you can see one of his inventions: the Great Clock, with large iron weights that look like cannon balls. In the sitting room, another Jefferson invention: a dumbwaiter built into the side of the fireplace which lifts bottles of wine from his basement.
"He was a remarkably intellectually curious man," said David L. Holmes, professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary and author of "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers."
"He was the Renaissance man, the Enlightenment man in the colonies; there were others behind him in the group but he was the one."
Jefferson read widely and was interested in the beliefs and ideas of others. Among his extensive book collection was a copy of the Quran. Some Monticello visitors are curious about his religious beliefs.
Jefferson, like most of the United States' Founding Fathers, was a Christian, but his faith did not always mirror the orthodox beliefs of his time. Even today, two centuries later, a battle rages over the nature of Jefferson's faith, a war often fought by Internet bloggers.
"His political opponents described him as a French infidel, as a libertine, as an atheist," Monticello's director of interpretation Gary Sandling said as he stood in Jefferson's library, which is filled with leather-bound copies of the works of Greek philosophers, French thinkers, scientists and historians.
Explaining Jefferson's views on religion is "complicated," Sandling said. Jefferson acknowledged the importance of the ethical teachings of Jesus Christ, he said, but for Jefferson, the highest value was "liberty of conscience ... that one must draw these conclusions through their own understanding, and draw them rationally."
Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment, Sandling said. "It was this New Age kind of a sense of we can understand the workings of the world by reason and by experiment and by observation."
Jefferson even took copies of the Bible and cut out from them what he thought were the most important teachings of Jesus, creating his own bible: "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" for his personal study, but he left out things like miracles, things that he thought could not be proven rationally.
Jefferson believed that religious freedom belonged to everyone, as he wrote: "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindu and the Infidel of every denomination."
Jefferson's radical idea, the separation of church and state, still is being discussed and debated today. This year in particular, in a political campaign which forces candidates to publicly declare their personal beliefs, Jefferson seems refreshingly independent.
"He was obsessively private about his religious beliefs," Sandling said. "He would say to people with whom he was corresponding: 'Ask me not of my religion; it is a matter between my God and me.' "
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