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A Big Birthday for the Big Easy

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The Louisiana city known as the Big Easy is celebrating a big birthday this year. New Orleans turns 300 years old.

The celebration began December 31 with a huge fireworks show over the Mississippi River. Performances, parties and other events throughout 2018 will honor the tricentennial, including the city’s most famous celebration: Mardi Gras.

FILE - A young reveler scream for beads during the Krewe of Endymion Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
FILE - A young reveler scream for beads during the Krewe of Endymion Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Kristian Sonnier is with New Orleans' Convention and Visitors Bureau. She says the city’s three centuries of history include “colonization by both France and Spain, a British invasion, devastating fires, pirates, yellow fever and hurricanes, among other challenges.” But, through it all, New Orleans has held on to what Sonnier calls “authentic traditions and a sense of place.”

Origins

The city was born in the spring of 1718. At first it was French: the French Mississippi Company, led by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, established La Nouvelle-Orléans. Forty-five years later the Spanish took control of the city. The United States gained it in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

The Roman Catholic Church has also played a major part in New Orleans’ culture. On February 9, 1718, a church leader placed a cross on the site where the St. Louis Cathedral now stands.

In this August 15, 2015, file photo, newlyweds dance their way out of St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Catholic faith and traditions have played a role in New Orleans' culture since Feb. 9, 1718, when a priest plan
In this August 15, 2015, file photo, newlyweds dance their way out of St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Catholic faith and traditions have played a role in New Orleans' culture since Feb. 9, 1718, when a priest plan

Visitors can learn about the city’s Catholic history at the Old Ursuline Convent Museum. The exhibition is called “The Church in the Crescent: 300 Years of Catholicism in New Orleans.”

Objects linked to the city’s early period, including Native Americans and enslaved Africans, can be found at another show. The Historic New Orleans Collection will open “New Orleans, the Founding Era” February 27.

The New Orleans Museum of Art’s “Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories” marks the tricentennial with seven modern art projects. Museum officials say the show, which opens June 21, will center on the forgotten or less famous histories of the city.

Then, beginning October 26, the museum will feature works by painters such as Raphael, Rembrandt and others from the Duke of Orleans’ collection. It will continue through early 2019.

Other sights to see

Another important period in New Orleans’ history was the War of 1812. At the end of that conflict, Andrew Jackson commanded U.S. troops in the famous Battle of New Orleans. His victory over Great Britain made him a national hero. Later, Americans elected him president. Visitors interested in learning more about the event can visit Chalmette Battlefield, just outside New Orleans. It is part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

Yearly events that will mark the tricentennial include the French Quarter Festival from April 12 to 15. It features music from gospel to jazz to Cajun and zydeco.

FILE - Young members of the Original Big Seven Junior Steppers dance during a second line at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Friday, May 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
FILE - Young members of the Original Big Seven Junior Steppers dance during a second line at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Friday, May 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, arguably the city’s most famous event, takes place April 27 to May 6. More than 100 artists will take part this year, including Aretha Franklin, Trombone Shorty, Archie Shepp Quartet, Aerosmith and Buddy Guy.

An event already under way, Prospect.4, is a citywide art exhibition. There are 16 displays around town by dozens of artists including Louis Armstrong, Yoko Ono and Kara Walker.

FILE - People walk past a bronze elephant on the grounds of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans Tuesday Feb. 14, 2006. The Zoo is open only on weekends since Hurricane Katrina struck the city in August. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
FILE - People walk past a bronze elephant on the grounds of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans Tuesday Feb. 14, 2006. The Zoo is open only on weekends since Hurricane Katrina struck the city in August. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

Other New Orleans attractions include the National World War II Museum, boat rides on the Mississippi River, the zoo and aquarium at the Audubon Nature Institute, City Park and the Garden District.

Regional attractions include bayou tours, the Tabasco hot sauce factory on Avery Island, and Laura Plantation.

In this photo taken on April 4, 2008 the Big House of the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La., which was built in 1805, is seen. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz)
In this photo taken on April 4, 2008 the Big House of the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La., which was built in 1805, is seen. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz)

The former farm has been linked to the collection of famous West African traditional tales known as the Brer Rabbit stories. Tours at Laura Plantation include the history of the enslaved Africans and their descendants who lived and worked there.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Caty Weaver adapted this Associated Press story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

tricentennial –​ n. the three-hundredth anniversary of a significant event.​

devastating –​ adj. causing great damage or harm​

challenge –​ n. a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do​

authentic –​ adj. real or genuine: not copied or false​

dozen –​ n. a group of 12 people or things​

attraction –​ n. something interesting or enjoyable that people want to visit, see, or do​

aquarium –​ n.a building people can visit to see water animals and plants​

regional –​ adj. of a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way​

bayou –​ n. an area of water in the southern U.S. in which the water moves very slowly and is filled with many plants​

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