No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Jackson Square in the French Quarter. Thus we made sure to check it out while in the area, December 2017. The square was designed after the famous 17th-century Place des Vosges in Paris, France, by the architect and landscape architect Louis H. Pilié. and is roughly the size of a city block. Though it may be small in size, it is huge in history.
For those of you who may not know, Jackson Square was the site where in 1803 Louisiana was made United States territory pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase. Due to its central role in the city’s history, the Square has been declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Then in 2012, the American Planning Association designated Jackson Square as one of America’s Great Public Spaces.
From the 1920s through the 1980s the square was famous as a gathering place of painters of widely varying talents, including proficient professionals, talented young art students, amateurs, and caricaturists.
The 1960s and 1970s saw the beginnings of the Square as a place of business for New Age and pagan devotees telling fortunes and reading palms and tarot cards. They sit on St. Ann or St. Peter Street, alongside the park.
Even a short trip to see Clark Mills’ equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson is worth the visit. The statue was erected in 1856 in honor of the hero of the Battle of New Orleans and the seventh U.S. President for whom the former military parade ground was named. The caption on the pedestal – “The Union must and shall be preserved” – paraphrases Jackson’s words spoken in 1830 in response to South Carolina threatening to secede from the Union. It was added in 1861 when New Orleans was occupied during the American Civil War. Iron fences, walkways, benches, and Parisian-style landscaping remain intact from the original design by Micaela Almonester in 1851. It is quite impressive.
We spent a lot of time in the area and enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere of Jackson Square. Not only were we entertained by the street vendors scattered around the square, but we also viewed some amazing artwork. There were still many people reading palms and tarot cards, but just as many people playing music, doing balloon animals, face painting, etc. They do whatever they can to get your attention and get a tip for their performance or trade. They were not as aggressive as some of them on Bourbon Street which was really nice. We did tip a few that we really enjoyed watching or listening to.
There are so many other things to do in the French Quarter, but I decided to just focus on the area around Jackson Square on this post. Here is a link to their website with more info about the Square itself. I also created two more posts about the French Quarter. One is called the Sights and Sounds around the French Quarter. The second one is called Saint Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. We were definitely glad to have explored this area on our recent trip. One more informational note, there is not a lot of parking in the area, so taking a bus, trolley, or Uber is the best way to visit the area.
Things to see around Jackson Square:
The Cabildo – A Spanish city council; this building, standing on the site of city government from founding until 1853, earned the name of the governing body that sat within it. Today, it’s the home of the Louisiana State Museum.
Pirates Alley – Formerly, Cabildo Alley, the narrow pedestrian walk was renamed in 1964 to reflect local legends, which make the alley the site of an early 19th-century black market run by the Lafitte pirates.
St. Louis Cathedral – The oldest still-functioning Catholic cathedral in the United States, St. Louis Cathedral is a minor basilica. In the stained glass windows, you can see the shape of Don Andres Almonaster y Roxas – the man responsible for rebuilding the Cathedral, Cabildo, and Presbytere after the great fire of 1788.
St. Anthony’s Garden – At night, visitors gather around the back fence of St. Anthony’s Garden to take pictures of the giant shadow cast by a low lamp that shines on the statue of Jesus.
Café du Monde and the French Market – The green and white striped awning of Cafe du Monde has stood at this location since 1862. Cafe du Monde also represents the beginning of the French Market, which extends down Decatur Street to your left and continues nearly to the end of the French Quarter. During the 18th and 19th centuries, and early in the 20th, the French Market provided for all the daily needs of French Quarter residents.
The Presbytere – Was constructed with a priest’s residence in mind; in practice, though, it housed a variety of church and state functions, including a courthouse.
Washington Artillery Park – Across Decatur Street is Washington Artillery Park. Besides providing a great view of both Jackson Square and the Mississippi River the park also commemorates the Washington Artillery.
Pere Antoine Alley – Home to offices of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The alley sees more activity at night when ghost tours pass through telling a number of stories, including the claim that Pere Antoine can sometimes be seen helping to lead mass in the Cathedral today.
Getting to Jackson Square is pretty simple. It is on the Mississippi River, on Decatur Street, between the Jax Brewery Shopping Mall and the French Market, in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. You will also find carriages offering rides around the quarter. Looked like fun, but we didn’t take advantage while we were there. Maybe next time we will.
Like I said earlier, the area may be small, but there is so much history in and around the square. I love the feel of the old and historic feel while sitting around people watching, and being entertained by the street vendors. If you are anywhere near New Orleans, it is definitely something you should make a point to see. Even if you can only visit for an hour or so, it is well worth experiencing it for yourself.
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