When people think of New Orleans, they immediately think of Mardi Gras, Pralines, Gumbo and Jambalaya. These are all true. But during my trip to New Orleans, I learned so much more about this very historic southern city by joining various walking tours. The walking tours I joined were led by great guides who has great knowledge of the city. So what have I learned about New Orleans that most people may not know. Here’s one for the history and culture geeks out there.
The city is and may still be predominantly Catholic – the city was the former colony of the French and Spanish crowns that were (and still are) devout Catholics. A majority of the population of France and Spain are Catholics and they brought the religion to all the places they had colonized. Half the cathedrals and churches in the city are Catholics perhaps the same for its population.
The French were not the only European power to colonized the Louisiana territory – the French and Spanish colonized this part of the country alternately. Evidence of Spanish rule is all over the French Quarter from the wrought-iron balconies to the street signs made of ceramic tiles with the old Spanish names of the street.
The French and Spanish are not the only foreign immigrants that settled here – Decades after the French and Spanish came to established and lived in New Orleans. The Italians and Irish came to the city to live their own American dream. Perhaps one of the reasons why these two cultures came here is because the city is predominantly Catholic. Another culture that came here are the French-Canadians which makes up half of the Cajun heritage of Louisiana.
Gumbo was brought into the city by slaves – Put all the ingredients and spices in a large pot with flavored water or stock and don’t forget the okra into the mix. Some people would say, it’s not gumbo without the okra.
The French Quarter is the original city of New Orleans – this part of town that is about a square mile with about 7-8 blocks was the beginnings of the city of New Orleans. Back then anything outside these parts would have been considered rural.
There used to be a wall that surrounds the city – Remember, for at least a century the city of New Orleans only comprises of the French Quarter. There used to be a wall where North Rampart Street is now today surrounding the city from there. The area or district now called Marigny and CBD (Convention and Business District) were plantations back then. These plantations were then sold to the city when it needed expansion.
The famous Louisiana plantations is about 2-3 hours drive from New Orleans – I’m talking about famous plantations such as Myrtle Plantation and Oak Valley Plantation located outside the city. You will definitely need a car to get there. If you don’t feel like driving, you can join a tour group to see these plantations.
Though most of these details are historical, but I believe it is what gives the city its unique character and culture. Whenever I go to a new city, I always make sure to do a little bit of research about where I’m going including its history. It is also a good idea to pay attention to your local tour guide. The people are not just there to make money from tourists but they are also well-versed when it comes to the history of the places. Some of the information they know are not often found in history books. There are the types of information I am very much interested in. The local lure that only residents would know.