The history of New Orleans reads like a fantastic novel. Here are a few of the highlights to help you better understand the historical dynamics that have shaped this utterly unique city.
In 1718, the Frenchman Sieur de Bienville founded a strategic port city five feet below sea level, near the juncture of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. The new city, or ville, was named La nouvelle Orleans for Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, and centered around the Place d'Armes (later to be known as Jackson Square. The original city was confined to the area we now call the French Quarter or Vieux Carre (Old Square).
In 1762, either because he lost a bet, or because the royal coffers were exhausted, Louis XV gave Louisiana to his Spanish cousin, King Charles III. Spanish rule was relatively short -- lasting until 1801 -- but Spain would leave a lasting imprint on the city.
In 1788, the city went up in flames, incinerating over 800 buildings. New Orleans was still recovering when a second fire in 1794 destroyed 200 structures. One of the only French structures to survive these fires is the Old Ursuline Convent (1100 Chartres). Completed in 1752, it is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. This means that most of the buildings you see in the French Quarter were actually constructed by the Spanish.
In 1801 Louisiana ceded back to France, but only two years later Napoleon sold the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, effectively doubling the size of the U.S.A. At a cost of only $15 million, it was considered one of the greatest real estate bargains in history.
After the Louisiana Purchase, Americans arrived en masse as did European immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Sicily.
Tension existed between the European Creoles concentrated in the French Quarter and the new American residents. As a result the Americans settled across Canal Street in what was known then as the American Sector, known today as The Central Business District. The two factions skirmished often, and the Canal Street median became neutral area where the two groups could come together to do business without invading the other's territory. Ever since, all city medians have been called neutral grounds.
And the Haitian Revolution of 1804 meant that for years to come thousands of Afro-Caribbean descent would come to call New Orleans home. These immigrants further diversified the population of New Orleans and made colorful contributions to the city's culture.
The war of 1812 culminated in the Battle of New Orleans three years after the war began. In January of 1815, 8,000 British troops were poised to attack and overtake the City of New Orleans. The American forces lead by General Andrew Jackson were grossly outnumbered. And due to the circumstances an unusual union formed - the notorious pirate Jean Lafitte and his men joined the American forces to defend New Orleans. On January 8, a polyglot band of 4,000 militia, frontiersmen, former Haitian slaves and Lafitte's pirates defeated the British at the Chalmette battlefield, just a few miles east of the French Quarter. The battlefield remains a place worthy of a visit.
By the mid 1800s, the city in the bend of the river became the fourth largest in the U.S. and one of the richest, dazzling visitors with chic Parisian couture, fabulous restaurants and sophisticated culture.
Society centered around the French Opera House, where professional opera and theatre companies played to full houses. In fact, opera was performed in New Orleans seven years before the Louisiana Purchase, and more than 400 operas premiered in the Crescent City during the l9th century.
Under French, Spanish and American flags, Creole society coalesced as Islanders, West Africans, slaves, free people of color and indentured servants poured into the city along with a mix of French and Spanish aristocrats, merchants, farmers, soldiers, freed prisoners and nuns.
New Orleans was, for its time, a permissive society, that resulted an intermingling of peoples unseen in other communities. And it is New Orleans' diverse heritage that is the driving force behind this unique and exotic city. The contributions of Africans, Caribbean peoples, the French, Spanish, Germans, Irish Sicilians and more created a society unlike any other.
Over the years New Orleans has had a powerful influence on American and global culture. Our cuisine is known across the world and through the innovative sounds of jazz rock and roll was born. Literary giants from Tennessee Williams to William Faulkner have flocked to the city for inspiration. Our food, music and cultural practices will capture your imagination and your heart. Diversity, creativity and celebration are at the core of the New Orleans way of life. All are welcome - the more ingredients, the more we can feed.
For more information on New Orleans history visit one of our many museums or take a tour with one of our knowledgeable guides.
This ultimate Creole dish is a tasty metaphor of New Orleans culture: not a melting pot, but a spicy mix of ingredients that complement each other without losing their individual flavors.
Based on the African tradition of soup, gumbo is made with local seafood like our superb Gulf shrimp, crabs and crawfish, or a mix of meat and sausage (usually Cajun Andouille).
Native American file' spice thickens and flavors the stock. Okra (from the Bantu nkombo) also helps with the thickening process as do Creole tomatoes. The 'holy trinity' of New Orleans food -- onions, garlic and green peppers -- is a must.
On January 7, 1815, the eve of the Battle of New Orleans, citizens spent the night in the old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street in prayerful vigil to Our Lady of Prompt Succor for victory.
Fearing the arrival of British guns at their doors, they sought Our Lady's intercession, along with the Ursuline nuns in residence, for a miracle. In return, they promised to dedicate the City to her should the ragtag warriors drive the British forces away in defeat.
The Americans won decisively. General Andrew Jackson personally visited the Convent to thank the
faithful for their prayers, and grateful citizens donated family jewels to create fabulous gold crowns for a statue of Our Lady and the infant Jesus in her arms.
Every year, on the anniversary of the battle, a solemn high mass is celebrated at the national shrine of the Ursulines in uptown New Orleans as the people follow through on their promise of thanksgiving. The chapel is open to the public where the Our Lady's statue can be venerated.
They say that it was born in the l890's when Buddy Bolden put his cornet to his lips and blew a few hot notes to a cool tune. Just that simple and JAZZ was created, an American original and a world favorite.
JAZZ mixes African and Creole rhythms with African American and European styles. The Irish, Germans and Italians contributed the presence of brass bands.
He had the manners of a gentleman, the wealth of royalty, and the mystique of a legend.
Some called him the Hero of New Orleans, to others he was known as "The Terror of the Gulf." He personally preferred the term PRIVATEER and he ran the waterways near Barataria, an area populated by pirates. Legend is that his buried ill gotten loot is still there to be found.
Today, the land of Lafitte is a haven for fishermen and home to quite a few of the descendants of the infamous pirate. It was of he that Lord Byron wrote: "He left a corsair's name to other times, linked one virtue with a thousand crimes."
She passed away over a century ago and, yet, people still visit her tomb in the Old St. Louis Number One cemetery to gain a touch of the Voodoo queen's power.
The tomb can be easily accessed in the old burial grounds on Basin Street, just outside the French Quarter. Those who believe visit the tomb with offerings in hopes of securing fresh gris-gris, a voodoo spell or a charm that only Marie can offer.
It exists in name only. This was the area of the official red-light district of New Orleans, from l897 to l917, when it was decided far better to make war then love.
Attempts at regulating and taxing the world's oldest profession failed until l897 when a city alderman named Sidney Story drafted an ordinance confining prostitution to a controlled district where it was legal, and madams were required to have a license to operate their brothels.
Instantly dubbed Storyville, the ladies cheerfully profited from consolidation, creating the 'Blue Book,' their own private yellow pages listing the houses, girls, services and prices for many of the 700 women who worked there. The book's famed photographs inspired potential customers to take a closer look. Business boomed, and Jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver played in bordellos.
The Louis Armstrong Park today sits across North Rampart Street, a Storyville area where many young musicians got a start. Look for Donna's Bar and Grill and the Funky Butt where you can still hear the music of the City.
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