New Orleans is Louisiana’s largest city and metropolitan area, as well as being the United States’ biggest port and the busiest port in the Gulf of Mexico. Situated on a bend of the Mississippi river, around 100 miles (160 kilometres) from its mouth, the city is known for its distinctive architectural style that encompasses French and Spanish elements, Creole culture and its vibrant history.
The city was founded by French Canadian adventurer, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, in 1718. He named the city in honour of the well-known Duke of Orleans, Regent of France. However, long before European settlers ever laid eyes on the Crescent City, the area was home to Native Americans, who developed trade routes connecting the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain as far back as 10,000 years ago.
The area was not an easy one to live in with the swampland teeming with alligators, snakes and mosquitoes. Populating the city proved to be a very difficult task and financial incentives were offered to potential immigrants. When this did not work, the French began to import prisoners. Indians were then absorbed into the population and in the 1720s imperial authorities brought a large number of African slaves to the colony. This unusual mix created a diverse and colourful culture with French governors, less wealthy traders, pirates and voodoo practitioners.
Within the city is the area originally known as the ‘vieux carre’, meaning ‘old square’ and now more commonly known as the French Quarter, or simply The Quarter. In 1763 the French ceded the colony to Spain and the original architecture of the French Quarter was superimposed with that of the Spanish influence. This area represents the only remaining North American French Colonial and Spanish settlement and the streets still maintain the unique native architecture and ambiance of these former colonial times.
In the 1760s Acadians began to arrive in the city after being expelled from Nova Scotia by the British. They headed down the eastern coastline in small boats and arrived in Louisiana’s bayou looking for a French settlement. They became the largest group to settle in the area from 1765 to 1785 and Acadian became the dominant culture in many places. When aspects of the other cultures present in the area were adopted by the Acadians, a variation of the Acadian culture was created and these people became known as Cajun, a derivative of the word Acadian. This culture with its unique style of folk music, cajun cooking and language adapted from 17th century French remains today.
The unique blend of cultures and traditional music styles provided the perfect ingredients for New Orleans to become the birthplace of Jazz. The city is filled with music, from festivals to concerts and cozy live music venues and it comes in all forms – rock and roll, opera, brass bands, jazz, rhythm and blues, spiritual, gospel and even the Cajun zydeco. The city’s most known nickname of the ‘Big Easy’ is thought to come from how easy it was, and still is, for musicians to land music gigs in the city. It is virtually impossible to walk through the French Quarter without passing a street corner musician and hearing live music drifting out of doorways.
At night Bourbon Street comes alive as New Orleans becomes the ‘city that care forgot’. Neon lights indicate jazz clubs, oyster bars, zany nightclubs and striptease shows. All sorts of weird and wonderful can be seen on this street when the sun goes down (and often also in broad daylight) – a man-sized, inflatable grenade advertising the Handgrenade (New Orleans’ most powerful drink), giant alien-looking creatures in latex offering photographs for a tip at the Krazy Korner and adults dressed in dipers with giant baby heads wandering down street just because…
- New Orleans English Edition, Grant L. Robertson
- Guide to the French Quarter, Volume 5, Joe Schmalzel