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The history of the New Orleans area begins in the late 1600s with the arrival of the French, who had claimed the Mississippi River Valley extending well into the interior of what would later become the United States. Some of the earliest European settlers were the Acadians, French colonists who had been expelled from their Canadian colonies after the British seized them. Much of the Cajun "swamp food" delicacies one finds in Louisiana today are the result of those early settlers having to get by with whatever they could find to eat in their new, swampy home. The city is called the "Crescent City" because it is built on a bend on the Mississippi River that is shaped that way.
Visitors to New Orleans will see a few old Spanish influences, the result of a 40-year period when Spain owned New Orleans after the French and Indian War. A treaty in 1800 returned New Orleans to the French, but several years later, Napoleon sold the entire Louisiana terriitory to America, one of the biggest land bargains in history.
New Orleans played a role in the War of 1812 when General Andrew Jackson scored a resounding and somewhat surprising victory over attacking British forces. This battlefield is visited by many tourists today, some of whom enjoy a short steamboat ride just north of the French Quarter to see it. The legendary local pirate Jean Lafitte also played an important role in helping the U.S. win this battle.
There is considerable tragedy to the history of New Orleans, ranging from its decades as a leading slave port to the epidemics, fires and other mishaps that befell the city over the years. One great way to learn more about the tragic history of New Orleans is on one of the city's outstanding ghost tours. http://www.hauntedhistorytours.com/
New Orleans has always been something of a genuine melting pot, with generations of Cajuns, Native Americans, French, African-American and Creole people, Italians, Spanish, voodoo practitioners and others co-existing through the decades to produce the city's unique customs, celebrations like Mardi Gras, Saints holidays, and the African-American Indian parades, and its overall joie de vivre. This can be seen in the city's cuisine and music especially, from Preservation Hall to the Sunday morning music in Congo Square to the countless jazz and Zydeco musicians, to the next generation of rising young musicians playing in the city's clubs and restaurants.