The Cabildo is one of the most historically significant buildings in America. Built between 1795 and 1799 to replace a structure that burned in the 1794 fire, the Cabildo served as the seat of government in New Orleans during the Spanish colonial period.
In the Sala Capitular, one of the rooms of this three-story structure, the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803. This single, bloodless act nearly doubled the size of the United States at the time, and it opened the areas west of the Mississippi River for exploration, expansion, and settlement.
From 1803-1812 the Cabildo was used by the Louisiana Territorial Superior Court. After Louisiana became a state in 1812, the building continued to be used by the New Orleans City Council until the mid-1850s when Gallier Hall opened on St. Charles Avenue.
Following the Civil War, the Cabildo was the home of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1868-1910. The Sala Capitular was the site of several landmark court cases, including the controversial “separate but equal” Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896.
Located on Jackson Square in the historic French Quarter, next to the St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo continues to showcase the rich and colorful history of New Orleans and Louisiana. Cross currents of many cultures, ethnic groups, and nationalities have given the city a cosmopolitan flavor found nowhere else in the Deep South. This unique blend of cultures is reflected in the Cabildo’s permanent and rotating exhibits, which incorporate the personal perspectives of everyone from history book characters to ordinary inhabitants.
Throughout the building are more than 1,000 artifacts and original works of art, including “The Battle of New Orleans,” Eugene Louis Lami’s huge 1839 painting that shows intricate details of the final and most decisive battle of the War of 1812. There are also portraits of famous (and infamous) Louisiana figures, exquisite engravings of nature artist John James Audubon, and many interactive displays, all of which tell the story of Louisiana and its place in American history. Other exhibits include: “Freshly Brewed: The Coffee Trade and the Port of New Orleans” and “Louisiana and the Mighty Mississippi.”
In 1988 the roof of the Cabildo and its upper floor were severely damaged by fire. Over the next five years, the landmark was authentically restored using 600-year-old French timber framing technology. It reopened to the public in 1994.