A Photographic Tour of New Orleans’ Oldest District | Darrin Henry
Driving across the Interstate 10 bridge we were both tingling with excitement at the sight of New Orleans’ skyscraper skyline. Coming from an island where our tallest buildings reach just four storeys high, the novelty of seeing these gigantic glass and steel totem pole cities is not wearing off yet!
Visiting this famous city has long been on Sharon’s bucket list; the Voodoo angle tickles her fascination as she’s a fan of anything weird and spooky. We’ve talked about this place for so long that to finally be here is hard to believe!
Like most visitors it’s the French Quarter that’s caught our imagination as the place to see. That said, apart from a few movies, including the James Bond adventure, ‘Live and Let Die,’ I didn’t really know what to expect. So I’m pleased to say, as a casual tourist it’s just gorgeous; a complete contrast to anything we’ve seen in the states so far. As a photographer, it’s a treasure trove of stunning streetscapes with classic European styled architecture, all neatly painted with vibrant colours that look spectacular in the summer sun.
I started this blog post intending to highlight 10 of the best images, but it proved too difficult to edit the selection down to just 10. So here instead are 20 of our favourite pictures from the charming streets of the New Orleans French Quarter.
A Well Protected District
The city of New Orleans itself is just 300 years old having been founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, with the first buildings being constructed in the French Quarter. It’s sometimes also referred to as the Vieux Carré, which translates to “old square” in English. As the city’s oldest district it’s now designated a National Historic Landmark and any building works come under strict planning scrutiny in order to maintain the Quarter’s historic character.
The older buildings are protected by law; knocking them down, even to rebuild in the same design is prohibited.
I can’t help thinking the Spanish must be a little miffed that they don’t get a mention in the name of the place, when they’re actually responsible for most of the existing architecture in the French Quarter. Many of the original French buildings were destroyed in two great fires; 1788 and 1794. By then the Spanish controlled the area and rebuilt the district in their own style. The new buildings were designed also to reduce the risk of further fire destroying the entire district.
St Helena Could Fit In Here!
Today around 4,000 people live in the French Quarter which takes up an area of just 85 square blocks. It’s quite small. We’re able to walk throughout the entire district during the course of the morning which makes it quite amazing to know the whole population of our home island, St Helena, could be accommodated in here quite easily.
We had been nervously expecting to practise our beginner French with the locals, but never did hear the language being spoken. No surprise as only a few French people remained mid 19th century. The area had become less ‘cool’ for the period and the cheaper rents meant many immigrants from Italy and Ireland came and settled.
A more creative and artistic community began moving in during the early 20th century.
Around this time also, new rules were made to preserve the cultural heritage of the district as this value was realised.
A Famous Tourist Destination Takes Shape
The area continued to evolve over the next century, driven by both national and world events, as it carved out an identity and reputation as an entertainment and cultural destination. There was also plenty of mystic around the French Quarter as the landing place of Voodoo in North America.
The decadence of Bourbon Street exploded during the Second World War, and although different district leaders have made attempts to ‘clean up’ the area, I get the feeling the economic benefits from tourism means today’s well policed version is here to stay.
Hurricane Katrina’s devastating and tragic blow in 2005, left New Orleans broken; it’s been a long struggle to rebuild the city’s community and infrastructure and to recover. There is still more to do, but many reports I’ve read indicate a lot of progress has been made.
Worth A Visit With The Camera
The French Quarter, surprisingly, avoided much of the destructive flooding that followed Katrina, due to its elevation, 1.5m above sea level. Any damage sustained was minor.
Certainly, today, the French Quarter is an absolutely beautiful district in terms of its architecture. It’s simply stunning and we’re so pleased we finally made it here. A day wandering the narrow streets is like stepping back in time, if it wasn’t for the modern cars parked on the curbs as a reminder we’re in the 21st century. But it really is like no other place (that we’ve seen) in the USA.
I’ve chosen my favourite 20 images, but the other few hundred are on my hard drive. Make sure bring your camera; you’ll be spoiled for choice.