A popular attraction in New Orleans is its oldest part of the city, the French Quarter, also known as the Vieux Carré or Vieux Carré Historic District. After New Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the city of New Orleans developed around the central square of the Vieux Carré.
Due to the many French people who originally lived here, the area is now known as the French Quarter or simply “The Quarter”. Its French influence, after the Louisiana Purchase, had such an impact on the neighborhood that even today, visiting the neighborhood feels like being in France.
Large parts of the historic buildings were built either in the late 18th century, during the Spanish rule period, or during the first half of the 19th century, after the French colony of Louisiana became part of the United States.
In the meantime, the entire district has been included as a National Historic Landmark because of its numerous historic buildings and is particularly popular with tourists on vacation in the USA.
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Boundaries & Size of the French Quarter
The French Quarter includes all stretches of land along the Mississippi from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue (13 blocks) and inland to North Rampart Street (seven to nine blocks). It consists of 78 blocks in total. This excludes Canal Street, which was being rehabilitated at the time of architectural preservation, and the section between Decatur Street and the Mississippi River, where much of the long-standing industrial and warehouse space is.
When English-speaking Americans immigrated after the Louisiana Purchase, they mostly built on available land upstream above what is now Canal Street. Thus, the street became the meeting point of two cultures, the French-speaking Creoles living there and the new English-speaking Americans. This separating strip is therefore still referred to as “neutral ground” to this day.
Vieux Carre Commission
In order to preserve and protect the French Quarter, the Vieux Carré Commission was created to approve and review any changes to the buildings.
This commission also initially established the boundaries of this borough: Esplanade Avenue to the north, the Mississippi River to the east, Canal Street, Decatur Street, and Iberville Street to the south, and Basin Street, St. Louis Street, and North Rampart Street to the west.
Structure of the French Quarter
Many of the buildings in the French Quarter predate 1803, when New Orleans was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Most of the French Quarter’s buildings were constructed in the late 18th century and during the Spanish rule of the city. But a great fire in 1788 and 1794 destroyed much of the old French colonial architecture. These buildings were rebuilt by the Spanish rule of the time and given a Spanish style. The old French pitched roofs were replaced by flat tiled roofs. There were also brightly colored walls, stucco molding, ornate balconies and wrought iron galleries in the style of late 18th-century Spanish architecture.
Other buildings were constructed during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Add to that the cheap rent and the neighborhood’s decay, which attracted a bohemian artist community. These carried out the first redevelopment measures in the French Quarter.
In the 1920s, in order to protect against major changes in the historic buildings, the historic buildings were protected by law. They cannot be demolished and require a permit if they are to be refurbished or altered. Over time, in the late 19th century, the French Quarter became a little more modern and many immigrants from southern Italy and Ireland settled there.
When World War II began, thousands of soldiers and armament workers came to New Orleans to serve on the military bases and work in the shipyards. Many of these people frequented the Vieux Carré, which revived the nightlife on Bourbon Street.
In the 1960s there was a plan to build an elevated Riverfront Expressway between the Mississippi Dam and the French Quarter. However, on December 21, 1965, the Vieux Carré Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark and the highway construction was annulled by the Supreme Court.
The French Quarter was able to survive, but had to contend with new problems. More and more hotels opened, often replacing large parts of the French Quarter. The Vieux Carré Commission approved these structures as long as they adhered to the French Quarter architectural style. In addition, the rents rose because of the planned 1984 world exhibition and many residents could no longer afford them and had to move away.
Impact of Hurricane Katrina
When a levee collapsed in March 2004 and then on August 31, 2005, flooding large parts of New Orleans, the French Quarter was spared on higher land. However, several buildings suffered significant wind damage. Most major landmarks suffered little damage. Mayor Ray Nagin officially reopened the French Quarter on September 26, 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
Attractions and landmarks in the French Quarter
The district consists of many restaurants that are popular with both tourists and locals. These include some, like Antoine and Tujague, which have been in operation since the 19th century. But many other restaurants are also popular. The French Quarter is now very much geared towards tourist visits. There are many interesting shops, restaurants and accommodation here.
Due to its overall concept, the entire district is considered an attraction of New Orleans that is absolutely worth seeing. There are also a few historical places that should not be missed when visiting:
Jackson Square is a historic park in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. Also known as Place d’Armes to the French and Plaza de Armas to the Spanish. It was designed by architect and landscape architect Louis H. Pilié.
From the 1920s through the 1980s, Jackson Square served as a magnet for painters, young art students and street artists. In addition, live music is an integral part of the entire French Quarter.
In 1960, Jackson Square was designated a National Historic Landmark for its central role in the city’s history. It was named after the seventh President Andrew Jackson, who won a victory against the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the British-American War. As a tribute, there is an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson on the square.
Today, Jackson Square is the site of hundreds of live music events. Annually, the square hosts the French Quarter Festival and caroling in Jackson Square. In addition, many Christmas carols are performed here in the run-up to Christmas.
Notable buildings in Jackson Square include the Pontalba Buildings, a one-block, four-story red brick building constructed between 1849 and 1851. There are now many shops and restaurants on the ground floors of the Pontalba Buildings. The upper floors consist of rental and holiday apartments.
Across from Jackson Square are three historic buildings from the 18th century, St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo (the old City Hall and now the Louisiana State Museum) and the Presbytère, which served as the courthouse after the Louisiana Purchase. In the 20th century it was converted into a museum. It is also home to the Jackson Brewing Building, which originally produced a local beer.
A must-see when visiting Jackson Square is the Café du Monde, open 24 hours a day. Here you can get the famous milk coffee – coffee with chicory – and beignets. There’s an important tradition when visiting the Café du Monde: first-time visitors have to blow off the powdered sugar from a beignet and make a wish.
Jackson Square is open seven days a week. During summer time from 8 am to 7 pm and in winter from 8 am to 6 pm. Originally, the square overlooked the Mississippi River. But in the 19th century, the great levees were built along the river to protect it, blocking the view of the Mississippi River.
The most famous street in the French Quarter is Bourbon Street, also known as Rue Bourbon. Here visitors will find many bars and restaurants. Some historic bars include the Old Absinthe House, Pat O’Brien’s Bar, Spirits on Bourbon, the Bourbon Pub and the Oz.
It is also home to the oldest surviving building in New Orleans, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a tavern located on the corner of Bourbon and St. Philip Streets. Built in 1772, it is the oldest bar in America.
Another famous cafe is Cafe Lafitte, the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the United States.