History of New Orleans
Modern history of New Orleans begins in 1718 when Sieur de Bienville, who had already founded outposts in Mississippi and Alabama, marked a point at a curve of the Mississippi River where a new settlement was to be established. The future town was named after Duke of Orleans, who was Regent of France at the time. At first, New Orleans was inhabited by various criminals sent from French jails, as well as by slaves and bonded servants. In 1762, Louisiana was passed to the Spanish, who had some difficulties maintaining order in the colony until they sent some 3,000 troops. Descendants of these French-Spanish times are today known as Creoles. Cajuns (French Canadians from Acadia) also sought sanctuary in New Orleans, contributing to the town’s diversity.
By the end of the 18th century, the town was prospering on the production of granulated sugar and, soon, by cotton. In 1803, United States bought Louisiana from the French (who have in the meantime managed to regain control over the colony) and New Orleans was officially incorporated in 1805. After the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans entered a period of rapid population growth (both in slaves and in free people) and its economy also grew based on foreign investments and trade in the port. The city got new neighborhoods, most of them very much different from the old French Quarter. European immigrants, especially the Irish, also came in large numbers.
Because its economy relied so much on slave trade and labor, New Orleans was strongly pro-Confederate before and during the Civil War. After the war, despite frequent ethnic and economic conflicts, the city became a major railroad and distribution center. In the following decades, New Orleans managed to survive yellow fever, cholera, influenza and malaria outbreaks and several hurricanes.
In the beginning of the 20th century New Orleans played the pivotal role in the development of jazz. Music, combined with festivities such as Mardi Gras and the famous cuisine, attracted more and more visitors each year. Today, tourism is one of the most important sectors in the economy of the city.
New Orleans suffered an unprecedented disaster in 2005 when the area was hit by Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee system failed to protect the city. Some 80% of the city was flooded in what is considered to be the worst civil engineering disaster in American history. Most of the population evacuated and over 1,500 of those who remained in the city died or are still unaccounted for. Many of the residents who had evacuated never returned to the city.
Geography and Climate
New Orleans occupies an area of 350.2 square miles, of which 51.55% is land and the rest is water. The city lies in the Mississippi River Delta, south of Lake Pontchartrain. The city was settled on natural levees and high ground but by the half of the 20th century it was clear it also needed man-made levees. However, in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, when those levees failed, which caused the city, as well as the federal government, to start making serious improvements to the system.
New Orleans has a humid subtropical climate, with short and mild winters and hot and humid summers. New Orleans is the America’s most hurricane-prone city. In addition to Katrina, other devastating hurricanes occurred in 1909, 1915, 1947, 1956, 1965, 1995 and 2008.
Population of New Orleans
In 2010, New Orleans had a population of 343,829. It is believed that in 2007 and 2008 the city regained 60%-80% of its pre-Katrina population.
The racial makeup was 60.2% Black or African American, 33% White, 5.3% Hispanic or Latino, 2.9% Asian and 1.7% of two or more races.
The city has a large number of illegal immigrants, mostly Mexican.
New Orleans is not part of the Protestant Bible Belt that dominates the South,. The predominant religion is Roman Catholic. The city, as well as other parts of Louisiana, is known for its presence of Voodoo religious practices, however it is believed that there are really not that much real adherents to this religion.
The city is famous for its unique architecture, a combination of creole townhouses, “shotgun” houses, bungalow-style homes, creole cottages, as well as houses in Greek Revival, American Colonial and Victorian styles. The city can roughly be divided into downtown and uptown. Some of the most famous downtown neighborhoods are the French Quarter, Tremé, the 7th Ward and Faubourg Marigny, while some of the uptown ones include the Warehouse District, the Irish Channel, the Garden District, Fontainebleau and others.
New Orleans is one of the largest and busiest ports in the world. A large portion of its economy is based on shipping, trade and distribution. The city is also a center of higher education, healthcare, creative industries, oil industry and manufacturing. Tourism, of course, is a major source of revenue for New Orleans.
Some of the largest companies based in the city or with significant operations in the city include Entergy, Pan American Life Insurance, Rolls-Royce, IBM, AT&T, Textron Marine & Land Systems, Lockheed Martin, Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits, Capital One, Whitney National Bank, CH2M HILL and many more. The city also hosts a number of federal agencies and military installments.
Attractions, Events and Culture
New Orleans has many tourist attractions. The most visited area is the French Quarter, which contains Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, the French Market, Preservation Hall, New Orleans Mint and others. The city also has a number of beautiful cemeteries, popular among tourists for their element of elegant decay. Some of the best museums in the city are the National World War II Museum, Confederate Memorial Hall, New Orleans Museum of Art and Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
The largest event in the city is Mardi Gras, which begins on Epiphany and ends on Fat Tuesday. This event alone attracts thousands of visitors each year. Another major event in the city is New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Other popular festivals include Voodoo Experience and Essence Music Festival.
New Orleans is considered to be the birthplace of jazz. Louis Armstrong is probably the most famous musician from New Orleans and one of the biggest names in jazz music of all times.
New Orleans music scene was later dominated by other genres as well, especially Delta blues, Zydeco and Cajun music, bounce music, cowpunk and New Orleans hip-hop. The importance of music in New Orleans is evident in funerals with brass bands playing, often called “jazz funerals.”
Top institutions of higher education in New Orleans are Tulane University, Loyola University New Orleans, University of New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana, Southern University at New Orleans, Dillard University and others.
New Orleans has three active streetcar lines and a number of bike lanes and trails in and around the city. Major highways in New Orleans are I-10, I-610 and I-510. The city is served by Amtrak with the Crescent, the City of Orleans and the Sunset Limited. The primary airport is Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.