The Statesman’s Yearbook Online

edited by Dr Barry Turner


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New Orleans, the largest city in the state of Louisiana,is famous as the birthplace of jazz. The low-lying city is perched at the southern end of the Mississippi River at the entry into the Gulf of Mexico. It was devastated by natural disaster in 2005 when the levees that keep it above water were breached by Hurricane Katrina.


Prior to its settlement by European explorers, the area now occupied by the city was inhabited by Native American tribes, for whom the local waterways were an important trade route. In the 1690s French explorers established the first European settlement on the Gulf coast.

In 1718 Sieur de Bienville founded a port city a little below sea level, near the juncture of the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. The new city was named La Nouvelle-Orléans for Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, who was then the French Regent to Louis XV. The site of this first city constitutes what is now the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Louis XV ceded the city to Spain in 1762 as part of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, ostensibly to keep it out of British hands in the wake of the Seven Years' War. As a result of extensive rebuilding after two fires in 1788 and 1794, the prevailing architectural style of the French Quarter dates from the period of Spanish rule.

Napoleonic France regained possession of New Orleans in 1800 through the Treaty of San Ildefonso. However, the agreement was kept secret and Louisiana remained nominally under Spanish control until a transfer of power to France in 1803. Three weeks later, Napoleon sold the city to the USA as part of the Louisiana Purchase, an acquisition that doubled the territory of the nascent country.

The Haitian Revolution of 1804 saw an influx of immigrants. The city was soon established as a major cotton port and by the mid-nineteenth century was among the wealthiest and most populous cities in the nation. It emerged largely unscathed from the American Civil War, having been captured by the Union early in the conflict.

As the population of the city grew in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it suffered a corresponding decline in prosperity. This period, however, saw the birth of jazz, a hybrid musical medium that embodied the multiculturalism of New Orleans, providing it with its most enduring cultural legacy.

On 29 Aug. 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit southeast Louisiana, causing the city to flood after its protective levee system failed. Nearly 2,000 people died in the disaster. With the repair of the city costing an estimated US$81bn., it remains the costliest disaster in the history of the USA.


New Orleans is situated at the head of the Mississippi River delta on the Gulf of Mexico. Its area is 169.4 sq. miles, with a population density of 2,029 per sq. mile. The population declined by 29.1% from 484,674 at the census of 2000 to 343,839 in 2010, a fall largely attributable to Hurricane Katrina.


The 7-seat New Orleans City Council is the legislative branch of the city government. There is one city council member for each of the five council districts, as well as two at-large members.

The current mayor is Mitchell Joseph Landrieu, elected in 2010 and the first white mayor of New Orleans since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978. Born in New Orleans in 1960, Mitchell Landrieu graduated from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Between 1987 and 2003 he sat in the Louisiana House of Representatives, taking the seat previously held first by his father and then his sister, the US Senator Mary Landrieu. In 2003 he was elected Lieut.-Governor of Louisiana. After unsuccessful bids for the mayorship in 1994 and 2006, he won a landslide victory in 2010, taking 65.5% of the first round vote against 13.8% for his closest challenger. He was sworn into office on 3 May 2010.


The Port of New Orleans is at the heart of the world's largest port complex, centred on Louisiana's Lower Mississippi River, and is itself the largest port in the USA in terms of volume of cargo passing through. Exports handled include grain, animal feed, coal, fabricated metals, chemicals, textiles, oils and tobacco. Around 5,000 oceangoing vessels dock at New Orleans annually, with many nations operating consular offices in the city.

Tourism is also important to the economy, the city attracting 8.8m. visitors spending US$5.5bn. in 2011. Other major industries include aerospace manufacturing and oil and gas.


Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is to the west of the city. New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal is the main railway station, while a ferry service operates across the Mississippi River. There are three streetcar lines, including the oldest continuously operating line in the country.



New Orleans' Mardi Gras ('Fat Tuesday') is among the world's largest festivals, the culmination of a month-long carnival season falling the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Famous for colourful parades organized by 'krewes', it extends across the city.

Places of Interest

The French Quarter dates to the foundation of New Orleans in 1718 and is a National Historic Landmark. The Old Ursuline Convent, constructed by French colonial engineers between 1745 and 1752, stands as the city's oldest building. St Louis Cathedral, overlooking Jackson Square, is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the USA. Several cemeteries have above-ground vaults because the city's high water table made traditional burials impractical.

The New Orleans Museum of Art holds a collection of modern European and American art, including works by Edgar Degas. The Edgar Degas House, where the French impressionist lived from 1870–71, is also open to the public. Other museums include the Louisiana State Museum, devoted to preserving and exhibiting the state's cultural heritage, and America's National World War II Museum (located in the Central Business District).


The city's major daily newspaper is the Times-Picayune, founded in 1837 and with a circulation of 141,000. Plans were announced in 2012 to cut publication to three times a week. The New Orleans Tribune and the Louisiana Weekly cater to the city's African-American community.


Charters, Samuel, Trumpet around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz (University Press of Mississippi, 2008)
Garvey, Joan B. & Widmer, Mary Lou, Beautiful Crescent: A History of New Orleans (Dundurn, 2007)
McKinney, Louise, New Orleans: A Cultural and Literary History (Signal Books, 2006)
Toole, John Kennedy, A Confederacy of Dunces (Grove Weidenfeld, 1987)


New Orleans as seen from the Mississippi River

A typical house frontage in the French Quarter

St Louis Cathedral

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