Learn more about the history and heritage of Louisiana inside one of the state’s most fascinating buildings.
The history of Louisiana and its people is bound up within the walls of the Cabildo. This living monument, now part of the Louisiana State Museum, is one of the most important buildings in New Orleans, having served as a courthouse, a prison, a city hall and the seat of local government.
The building was designed by the French architect Gilberto Guillemard and was completed in 1799 during the Spanish occupation – the name “cabildo” is Spanish for city hall. After a devastating fire in 1988 caused widespread damage, it was completely rebuilt and reopened in 1994. Guillemard’s work can also be seen in the nearby Presbytère and St. Louis Cathedral.
Exhibits are spread over three floors tracing the history of the state from its early days through the Civil War to the plantation era and beyond. As well as admiring portraits, engravings and other artefacts, you can see the death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte and tour the Sala Capitular, scene of many of the most important government meetings in the history of Louisiana. Cannons and stocks from the city’s earliest days are displayed in the central courtyard. Learn more about the history of slavery and the extraordinary social changes of the plantation era while absorbing the special atmosphere of a building that has played a vital role in shaping today’s city.
The Cabildo contains enough documentary material to last a whole day, but two or three hours will give you a thorough taste, with maybe a promise to return when you have more time to spare. There are also special exhibitions and other events with a local history theme, so check the programme for full details.
The Louisiana State Museum comprises five different properties, all open to the public and all within easy walking distance of each other. Discounts are available on tickets purchased for two or more museums. The Cabildo is open every day except Monday and is served by public transport and a free on-site car park.