Vieux Carre

La Nouvelle Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste La Moyne, Sieur de Bienville and established New Orleans as the capital of Louisiana and a fortress to control the wealth of the North American interior for the French. Reclaimed from a swamp and centered around the Palace d' Armes  - now Jackson Square - New Orleans was originaly confined to what is now called the French Quarter or Vieux Carre (Old Square). The unique geography of the Mississippi River delta made it strategic importance to control of the interior of North American both a desirable and challenging location for a city. Louisiana changed from French to Spanish then back to French control before being sold to the United States.

The city remained under French rule until 1763, when the colony was sold to Spain. Most of the French Quarter's architecture was built during the Spanish rule over New Orleans. The Great New Orleans Fire (1788) and another great fire in 1794 destroyed most of the Quarter's old French colonial architecture, leaving the colony's new Spanish overlords to rebuild it according to more modern tastes—and strict new fire codes, which mandated that all structures be physically adjacent and close to the curb to create a firewall. The old French peaked roofs were replaced with flat tiled ones, and now-banned wooden siding with fire-resistant stucco, painted in the pastel hues fashionable at the time. As a result, colorful walls and roofs and elaborately decorated ironwork balconies and galleries from both the 18th century and 19th centuries abound. Contrary to popular belief, Bourbon Street is named not after the alcoholic beverage, but rather after the Royal House of Bourbon, the family then occupying the throne in France

In the late 19th century the Quarter became a less fashionable part of town, and many immigrants from southern Italy and Ireland settled in the section. In the early 20th century the Quarter's cheap rents and air of age and neglected decay attracted a bohemian and artistic community.

From the 1920s through the 1980s the square was famous as a gathering place of painters, young art students and caricaturists. In the 1990s the artists were joined by tarot card readers, mimes, fortune tellers and street performers. Live music has been a regular feature of the entire quarter, including the Square for more than a century. Formal concerts do take place, albeit rarely, and musicians are known to play for tips. Diagonally across the square from the Cabildo is Cafe du Monde, open 24 hours a day, well known for the café au lait, coffee spiced with chicory and beignets served there continuously since the 19th century. It is a custom to blow the powdered sugar onto anyone who is going there for the first time, while making a wish.

The most famous of the French Quarter Streets, Bourbon street is famous for its drinking establishments. Most of the bars frequented by tourists are new but the Quarter also has a number of notable bars with interesting histories. The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street has kept its name even though for almost a century absinthe was illegal in the US. Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street. The tavern's building, built sometime before 1772, is one of the older still standing structures in New Orleans (the Ursuline Convent, for example, is older) and has been called the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States. According to legend the structure was once owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte, though as with many things involving Lafitte, no documentation of this exists. The Napoleon House bar & restaurant is in the former home of mayor Nicholas Girod; the name comes from an unrealized plot to rescue Napoleon I from his exile in St. Helena and bring him to New Orleans

To be continued

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