Tuesday, March 17, 1998
Greetings from the Vieux Carre! Vieux Carre simply means "old square," and is another name for the section of the city more commonly known as the French Quarter. This picturesque area was the original French City of New Orleans where French Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, first founded La Nouvelle Orleans in 1718.
France had claimed all the land along the Mississippi River in 1682, but a capital city was needed on the river to protect French claims against the British and Spanish competition in the New World. The streets of the present French Quarter were laid out and despite river floods, political corruption, and the menace of the swamps, the small settlement grew into a little city. German farmers, Acadian trappers, and Spaniards also settled in this area and with the great contribution of the Africans that were brought in as slaves, the city developed a unique and diverse culture.
In 1762, French King Louis XV gave Louisiana to his cousin, Charles III of Spain. During the time New Orleans was a colony of Spain (approximately forty-one years), Spanish and French cultures mingled, shared their traditions, and in many cases were joined through marriage. Children born from these intermarriages were called Creoles, a term that also applies to the culture and cuisine from this international community.
A terrible fire occurred in the city in 1788, which destroyed many of the original French buildings. When a second fire again devastated the city only 6 years later, a decree was signed by the governor ordering all new construction to be of brick to prevent future disasters. The new architecture that rose from the ruins was mostly of Spanish style, using arches and walled courtyards that can still be seen today.
As we toured the French Quarter, we saw some very distinguishable French and Spanish influences in the architecture. The galleries, balconies, and wrought iron seen in most buildings revealed the city's French and Spanish heritage. The galleries stood out because they were much wider than most balconies and had supporting poles or pillars extending to the ground. Some of the wrought iron galleries were amazingly decorative and reflected their excellent craftsmanship. (Wrought iron is a type of iron that can be easily welded and shaped by a blacksmith using hammers and heat, and was the only type used in the early New Orleans architecture.)
In 1803, Louisiana was returned to France and sold to the United States. Competition and differences grew during the next eleven years, but were later temporarily settled by the common will to defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. The Vieux Carre remained the old, Creole, French speaking section, while a new American city grew around it. Today, these narrow streets form a living museum where history can be studied, heard, tasted, and appreciated in the architecture, sounds, and cuisine of this area.
Have you ever studied the architecture of the city in which you live? What does it reveal about the history of the people that lived there before you?
|Return to Journal Home|