New Orleans: Places to Explore

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Faubourg Marigny, Bywater, and Tremé

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From Tremé's musical history, to the edgy alternative-arts scene in Bywater, to the bohemian comingling of the two in the Marigny, these three neighborhoods may look like only sleepy rows of houses crowded up against pothole-riddled streets, but they continue to be the driving engines for much of the most innovative and energetic creative work in New Orleans. Thanks to a remarkable mixture of old New Orleans families and newly transplanted musicians and artists, a terrific mixture of historic legacy and new energy thrives here.

With that said, it's important to remember that these are still largely working-class neighborhoods. That's part of the magic and authenticity of these areas (and one reason that artists and musicians flock here), but it also means that you'll likely encounter some rougher stretches of inner-city neighborhoods mixed in with the 19th-century homes that hearken back to a long and rich history.

The Marigny, with its famous Creole cottages, is one of the earliest neighborhoods in the city, formed in 1805 when the young Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville embarked on what is now practically an American pastime—creating subdivisions. Marigny's other famous contribution to American culture is the introduction of the dice game craps. He apparently had more enthusiasm for the game than luck in it and was eventually forced to sell his plantation off in small plots, creating what was at first a French-speaking suburb, but soon overflowed with Caribbean, German, and Irish immigrants. By the early-20th-century Spanish and Italian immigrants were flocking into this downtown neighborhood as well.

Tremé, meanwhile, is steeped in black history. Built and populated largely by free people of color, the neighborhood is home to Congo Square (now Louis Armstrong Park), which was a gathering place for slaves. French and Spanish colonial tradition often allowed for slaves to have Sundays off, and Congo Square is where they gathered to play music, dance, and set up a marketplace. This remarkable yet troubling setting is the birthplace of jazz. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave, with its rusty chains and shackles dangling from a large metal cross, sits on the grounds of nearby St. Augustine Catholic Church and is a haunting reminder of that violent legacy.

Bywater, similar to the Marigny, was formed from subdivided plantation land and populated largely by Caribbean Creoles and French colonialists during the Haitian revolution. Now crisscrossed with train tracks and bordered by an industrial canal and the Mississippi River with its waterfront docks and warehouses, the neighborhood has a more industrial vibe than many other parts of the city.

Next door to Bywater, just across the Industrial Canal bridge, is the Lower Ninth Ward, which was the most devastated of all New Orleans neighborhoods during Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. Signs of the storm remain all across the city, but nowhere more so than in this area, still blighted with empty lots, boarded-up houses, and broken roads.

In the wake of such hardships, however, these neighborhoods have emerged as interlinked vibrant communities and cultural touchstones. Filled with New Orleans treasures—architectural, historical, musical, and artistic—this area is now the heart of a renewed creative energy, evident in everything from the rebuilding of houses along the canal's floodwall to the live music flowing out the doors of neighborhood clubs. From the splendor of Mardi Gras Indians dancing in the streets of Tremé to the ripples of heat rising off sand-cast glass sculptures at Studio Inferno in Bywater, this is perhaps one of the most distinctive strings of neighborhoods you'll find anywhere in the nation.

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