Contrary to popular belief, the French Quarter wasn’t founded in 1718 by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in order for visitors to have a place to drink Huge Ass Beers in the streets, although that seems to have been an unintended consequence of his accomplishment.
Booze and Bourbon Street will undoubtedly always remain a big part of the Quarter’s attraction for many. But for those looking for a little deeper historical perspective, the Friends of the Cabildo offers guided Vieux Carré walking tours. The two-hour tours are given twice daily, six days a week.
“The tours are historically based, and include different areas of culture, architecture, and culinary traditions in the city,” says Jason Strada, Special Projects Manager for the group.
Friends of the Cabildo, a non-profit, volunteer organization founded in 1956, supports the activities of the Louisiana State Museum. The museum operates five properties in the Quarter, including the old U.S. Mint and the Cabildo — the seat of colonial government in New Orleans.
The walking tours have proven popular with tourists and locals alike.
“Locals love the tour,” says Strada. “The guides design their own tours, so you could go on a tour every single day twice a day, and you wouldn’t get the same exact tour each time. Each guide has their own different personality, and each guide feeds off the groups. You’ll get the historical background the same each time, just told in a different way.”
The volunteer guides undergo intensive training, and are licensed by the city of New Orleans.
“I love New Orleans and I love to share it with people,” says guide Christine Ewy. She and her husband Bob are retired educators, and Christine has written a book about the city, “Why People Live in New Orleans” (available for purchase in the museum’s 1850 House Museum Store).
On a recent Saturday, I tagged along on the Ewy’s tour, joining a group of Tulane anthropology students and their professor on a field trip.
Describing the city’s development, history, and rich blend of cultures, the couple led us on a brisk, fact-filled trek through the Quarter, stopping to point out landmarks and architectural features along the way.
Among the interesting tidbits: what the guides called the “four F’s” that shaped the city’s development: Fire, Flood, Fever, and Formosan termites.
Huge Ass Beers, I noted, were nowhere on the list.
Friends of the Cabildo website: http://www.friendsofthecabildo.org/
Glen Abbott is a New Orleans-based freelance travel writer/photographer. Visit his blog at www.TravelinGringo.com.