New Orleans' history is complex and turbulent and it's that very reason that the city developed such unique food, music and culture. Founded by the French in 1718, it has been called the "northernmost city in the Caribbean” and was profoundly impacted by the thousands of slaves and free people of color who settled here in the early 1800s. French, Spanish, Germans and Acadian exiles from Nova Scotia came seeking a fresh start. New Orleans was ruled by the French and the Spanish before being bought by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
As a major port near the mouth of the Mississippi River, New Orleans has been a flashpoint in many conflicts, including the American and French Revolutions. The Battle of New Orleans in 1815 was the last major battle of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain; a force under Andrew Jackson help off a much larger British invasion. During the Civil War, New Orleans was captured by the Union without a major land battle after the Union fleet blockaded the mouth of the Mississippi River. Between its numerous historical sites, buildings that date back more than a century and traditions strongly tied to New Orleans history, the city is ever mindful of its past. New Orleans has also seen its share of problems, from hurricanes and floods to plagues and crime waves. The most recent dark page came in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina left 80% of the city underwater. Full recovery will be an ongoing process, lasting for years to come, but the city has already made a strong comeback and some locals say that New Orleans is rebuilding better and stronger than it was before.
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP drilling ship Deepwater Horizon is likely to be in the headlines for years. Its direct physical effect on the city is minimal since New Orleans is about 80 miles up the Mississippi River from the Gulf. The disaster shouldn’t prevent anyone from traveling to the city, though it will certainly go down in New Orleans history.