Surrounded by historic buildings and atmospheric street life, this beautifully landscaped park is the heart of the French Quarter. St. Louis Cathedral sits at the top of the square, while the Cabildo and Presbytère, two Spanish colonial buildings, flank the church. The handsome brick apartments on each side of the square are the Pontalba Buildings. The park is landscaped in a sun pattern, with walkways radiating from the center—a popular garden design in the royal court of King Louis XIV, the Sun King. During the day, dozens of artists hang their paintings on the park fence and set up outdoor studios where they work on canvases or offer to draw portraits of passersby. These artists are easy to engage in conversation and are knowledgeable about many aspects of the Quarter and New Orleans. Musicians, mimes, tarot-card readers, and magicians perform on the flagstone pedestrian mall, many of them day and night.
Originally called the Place d'Armes, the
square was founded in 1718 as a military parade ground. It was also the site of public executions carried out in various manners, including burning at the stake, beheading, breaking on the wheel, and hanging. A statue of Andrew Jackson, victorious leader in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, commands the center of the square; the park was renamed for him in the 1850s. The words carved in the base on the cathedral side of the statue ("The Union must and shall be preserved") are a lasting reminder of the Federal troops who occupied New Orleans during the Civil War and who inscribed them.