New Orleans is located in southeast Louisiana on a curve of drained swamp-land between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. This unprepossessing location and the city’s mixed colonial heritage have given it a distinct and almost mythic identity as the ‘city that care forgot’. The downtown area and cultural heart of the city is the French Quarter – site of the original settlement.
The city was founded by the French in 1718 and named after the ruling French regent Philippe, Duc d’Orleans. Over the next century, the city became a flourishing cosmopolitan port, home to French and Spanish colonists, pirates, escaped slaves and free African-Americans. Eventually, in December 1803, Napoleon sold the entire Louisiana territory to the United States for US$15 million. In the wake of the Louisiana Purchase, Americans arrived in New Orleans from upriver. The city became divided on ethnic lines, with the French and Spanish colonists (or Creoles) hanging onto the French Quarter and the new arrivals occupying territory to the west of what is now Canal Street.
Today, New Orleans is one of the largest ports in the United States and an exporter of oil, chemicals, cotton and grains. Culturally, the city has preserved its eclectic and multiracial heritage; European colonialism endures in the architecture of the French Quarter; voodoo, brought to the city in the early 1800s by slaves from the French West Indies, is still practiced by about 15% of the population. Moreover, New Orleans has developed its own unique and celebrated traditions from the mélange of influences that shaped the city; Dixieland Jazz, New Orleans cooking and the Mardi Gras parades all bear testimony to the cultural diversity and joie de vivre of the ‘Big Easy’.
The climate in New Orleans is hot and humid with substantial rainfall between December and March. Temperatures can reach a sticky 32°C (90°F) with 66% humidity in the summer.
The Times-Picayune is the daily newspaper; the weekly Gambit and the monthly OffBeat have entertainment listings.