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New Orleans, Louisiana is one of America’s most fascinating cities with a rich history of different cultures and intrigue. It is known worldwide as a center of music, arts and revelry. A large portion of the city was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, although the city is making a slow recovery with promises of new innovations and attractions for the future.
Originally a French-owned port city, New Orleans was ceded to the Spanish in 1763, and then retaken by the French and sold to America as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. With such a complicated history of use, the city is home to several unusual ethnic groups. Cajun people are descendants of a group of Canadian settlers that were expelled from their native lands and moved into the area after the treaty of Paris in 1763. Creole residents are those who have a mixed ancestry of all of the local groups from the settlement era: French, Spanish, Native American and African. Both Creole and Cajun cultures have considerable influence on the city.
As a major port city, New Orleans has a long and fabled history with pirates and pirate culture. It is not coincidental that the famous Disneyland ride Pirates of the Caribbean starts out along the Louisiana bayou. Popular walking tours are available to guide tourists through pirate and voodoo sights around the city.
The city is considered architecturally significant, particularly for its beautiful French Quarter. Other than a large fire at the end of the 18th century, the area has remained largely untouched by disaster since its founding in 1718. This section of town contains stunning examples of ironwork and architecture, some dating back to the early days of the city. The French Quarter is popular with tourists, and contains the incredibly lively Bourbon Street, a center of food, drink, music and fun.
New Orleans is considered one of the best cities in the world for after-dark entertainment. The Mardi Gras festival, held each year, draws enormous crowds determined to celebrate as loudly and raucously as possible. One of the birthplaces of jazz music, the city also hosts the Jazz and Heritage Festival yearly, one of the best music festivals in the country. On nearly every night of the year, there is sure to be something to do in the city.
The cuisine of the area is an eclectic mix of local and foreign-influenced styles. Perhaps the best known local dish is gumbo, a thick stew of meat and vegetables often served in a hollowed-out roll of bread. French doughnuts called beignets are served with traditional chicory-flavored coffee as a popular breakfast treat. The city is also home to the po’boy sandwich, a mound of fried meat served on traditional Louisiana French bread.
In 2005, the city was devastated by the results Hurricane Katrina, a category five storm. Because of structural deficiencies in the levees, over 80% of the city was flooded when the protection systems failed. Over 1500 people died during and after the storm, many due to inadequate rescue preparations on the part of the US government. As of 2008, the restoration of the city is not yet complete, though many residents and politicians speak positively of the new buildings and commercial opportunities to come.
Travelers to New Orleans should be aware that the city has a high incident of violent crime. While tourist areas are considered extremely safe, low-income neighborhoods in the city have some of the highest murder and drug rates in the country. Visitors to the city should be aware of the areas they are traveling in and take proper safety precautions.
Despite the destruction of the hurricane and the controversial plans of the rebuilding efforts, New Orleans remains one of the greatest United States cities. For those who love music, architecture and history, the city is a wonderful vacation spot. If you plan to visit the “Big Easy,” prepare yourself for a wild ride through history, entertainment and culture that just may make you want to stay forever.