The French Quarter is the oldest part of the city, and after almost 300 years it is still a vibrant area. Start your tour of the Jackson Square, named for General Andrew Jackson hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and its surrounds at Artillery Park, located on Decatur Street in front of Jackson Square. From here you can see the Mississippi River behind you and Jackson Square in front of you.The Mississippi was the main artery for trade between Europe and the New World. Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, was ordered to move the capital of the French Louisiana colony from Fort Biloxi to a location on the River. However, the mouth of the river was dangerous for navigation. The Native American living in this area showed Bienville a “secret” way to get from Fort Biloxi, through two area lakes that took them to Bayou St. John. From there, they could easily navigate to this point on the Mississippi. The City was founded in 1718. The Streets of the French Quarter were laid out in 1721. Many of the streets running from the river are named for Catholic saints and many of the cross streets are named for the Royal house of France at that time. So, contrary to popular belief, Bourbon Street is not named for an adult beverage, but for the Royal House of Bourbon in France.
.Two great fires nearly destroyed New Orleans in the 1700s. The first great fire of New Orleans started 1n the house at Toulouse and Chartres (619 Chartres) when on a windy Good Friday, March 21, 1788, Don Vincente Nunez lit a candle at a religious altar in celebration Good Friday that caught fire. Because it was Good Friday, the bells of the St. Louis Cathedral, normally used to alert the population of a fire, were padded to be silent. 850 homes were destroyed in this fire within 5 hours. The second fire was on December 4, 1794, destroying another 212 homes. After this, the Spanish implemented building codes that included thick brick walls, courtyards, and arcades. Examples of such buildings are the Cabildo and the Presbytere, rebuilt after the 1794 fire.
The river itself, the fourth longest in the world, drains 40% of all of America and is over a half-mile wide. Notice that you are actually standing on a levee. These levees were originally about a foot high and formed naturally; Bienville ordered they be raised to three feet. After that, the French riverfront landowners were to build and maintain levees at peril of losing their land. Crevasses, or breaks in the levees, occurred during floods and caused casualties to life and property. After the Americans bought Louisiana, the levee system was turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers. Witness Hurricane Katrina--the rest is history.
When you look out at the Mississippi River, notice how it curves into a crescent to your left. This gives New Orleans one of its nicknames, The Crescent City. The Mississippi continues to be the lifeblood of the City. The Port of New Orleans handles about 500 million tons of cargo each year, and is the largest port for rubber and coffee; in addition, more than 700,000 cruise passengers sail through the port each year.