The Cabildo, in New Orleans’ French Quarter, is one of the most historically significant buildings in the country. It was the seat of government in New Orleans during the Spanish colonial period, the Louisiana Purchase was signed here, and the Louisiana Supreme Court called it home for almost 50 years.
New Orleans simply oozes with history. It’s one of the 20 oldest cities in the United States, after all. You can hardly walk the streets of the Big Easy without running across something of historical interest. If that’s why you’re visiting the city in the first place, you could do a lot worse than starting at The Cabildo on Jackson Square in the French Quarter.
The Cabildo is easy to find because it is right next to the St. Louis Cathedral, whose spires are prominent in the New Orleans skyline. Built between 1795 and 1799 when the city was still under Spanish rule, the Cabildo was designed by Gilberto Guillemard, who also designed the St. Louis Cathedral and the Presbytère. This latter should come as little surprise as the Presbytère and the Cabildo are practically mirror images of each other.
As mentioned above, the Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which doubled the size of the United States. It was the center of New Orleans government until 1853, before being used to house the Louisiana State Supreme Court. The controversial Plessy v. Ferguson decision, requiring racial segregation in public as “separate but equal,” was decided here in 1896.
Ownership of the Cabildo was transferred to the Louisiana State Museum in 1908 and it has remained in their care ever since. The building was severely damaged by fire in 1988 but was authentically restored using 600-year-old French timber framing techniques to reopen in 1994.
Beyond the building’s history, what other interest does it hold for a visitor? Well, come on: step inside and see!
The three-story Cabildo houses more than 1,000 historical artifacts and original works of art. You can see Eugene Louis Lami’s gigantic, detailed painting of “The Battle of New Orleans,” painted in 1839. Many of John James Audubon’s exquisite nature engravings are here, too, along with portraits of famous figures from New Orleans and Louisiana history.
The Cabildo hosts several permanent and rotating exhibits, including examinations the coffee trade, the Mississippi River’s effect on Louisiana, and the Battle of New Orleans. Napoleon’s death mask, one of only four in existence, is also part of the Cabildo’s collection.
A part of New Orleans and U.S. history, itself, the Cabildo showcases the rich and colorful history of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. To visit it is to stroll down the halls of history and is not to be missed.
701 Chartres St., Jackson Square, New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 568-6968, (800) 568-6968
Tuesdays – Sundays 10am to 4:30pm
Closed Mondays and state holidays.
For more information, be sure to visit: louisianastatemuseum.org
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