Jackson Square is in the heart of the French Quarter or Vieux Carre (Old Square) in New Orleans, Louisiana, surrounded by the Mississippi River, St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo and Presbytere, and the Pontalba Apartments. Jackson Square was called the Place d'Armes by the French and Plaza de Armas by the Spanish. This was the area where the militia drilled and the citizens met. It also was where public hangings, and beheadings were carried out.
The Place d'Armes, site in 1803 of the Louisiana Purchase ceremony, was renamed Jackson Square in the 1850's in honor of Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and later President of the United States. Today Jackson Square is a beautiful landscaped park. A statue of Andrew Jackson, victorious leader of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, stands in the center of the square.
The park is landscaped in a sun pattern, with walkways set like rays streaming out from the center. Surrounding the park is a flagstone pedestrian mall. Along the fence of Jackson Square, you can find artists who assemble each day, where you can have your portrait or caricature done, and view the artists at work. There are various sorts of street performers who entertain on a daily basis here: musicians, break dancers, tap dancers, jugglers, acrobats, tarot card readers, mimes, and clowns.
St. Louis Cathedral ( circa 1794),which dominates the area was named for the French king who led two crusades, is the oldest active cathedral in the United States. The interior is well worth a visit, with dramatic murals, sculpture, stained glass and the enscribed marble tombs of early prominent citizens. The cathedral is open to the public. Worshipers are welcome, and tours of the buildings are given daily.
The Presbytere (circa 1797) , which is to the right of St. Louis Cathedral, was originally designed to house the priests of St. Louis Cathedral, instead, it served as a courthouse under the Spanish and later under the Americans. Today, the Presbytere is part of the Louisiana State Museum Complex, housing some permanent and changing exhibitions on the history and culture of Louisiana and her people. Exhibits include decorative arts, military history, maritime history, and architectural history.
To the left of the cathedral is the Cabildo (circa 1799), named for the Spanish council-or cabildo - that met there. The transfer of Louisiana to the United States was made in 1803 in the front room on the second floor overlooking the square. After 1803, the Cabildo served as the City Hall and later the Supreme Court. Today, the Cabildo, is a museum and houses various exhibits including it's most popular artifact, Napoleon Bonarparte's death mask.
The Pontalba Apartments, are two sets of handsome red brick structures, one on each side of Jackson Square, were built in the late 1840's by the Baroness Micaela Pontalba. She was the daughter of a very wealthy Spaniard, Don Almonester y Rojas. She inherited the prime real estate around the square and had these apartment buildings constructed to leave a permanent European imprint on the heart of the city of New Orleans. The baroness married her cousin Baron Celestin de Pontalba in France. She caused a scandal when she had a near fatal fight with her father-in-law, left her husband, and returned to New Orleans in the 1840's to build the apartments on Jackson Square.
The Pontalba Apartments are publicly owned. To the right of the cathedral is the Lower Pontalba Apartments owned by the State of Louisiana, and to the left of the cathedral is the Upper Pontalba Apartments owned by the City of New Orleans. Both apartments have lovely ironwork on the balconies. The Baroness Pontalba introduced cast(or molded) iron with these buildings, and it eventually replaced much of the old handwrought ironwork in the French Quarter. The initials for her families, A and P- Almonester and Pontalba- are worked into the design. Today, the Pontalba Apartments have commercial shops on the ground floor, and apartments on the upper three floors.
To order or for additional information:
536 Saint Peter Street
Upper Pontalba Building on Jackson Square.
New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
Fax: (504) 586-1188
Open 7 days a week
Store Hours: 10:00am to 6:00pm