When you walk around the French Quarter, you can see all kinds of tours going by. There are architectural walking tours, culinary explorations, jazz history tours, honky tonk tours. But within the French Quarter there is a significant landmark that tour guides are unlikely to mention–probably because this landmark isn’t readily visible from neighborhood streets.
What Lies Beneath
Beneath New Orleans’ bustling French Quarter is where you’ll find St. Peter Street Cemetery, which served as New Orleans’ main burial ground during the city’s French and Spanish colonial rule. After St. Peter Street Cemetery got a little too crowded in the wake of several yellow fever outbreaks in 1788, Spanish colonists established a new cemetery, St. Louis Number One, just beyond New Orleans’ city limits. By the turn of the century in 1800, the St. Peter Street Cemetery had officially closed, and the city of New Orleans continued to develop and build on top of the St. Peter Street burial site.
The St. Peter Street Cemetery isn’t the only burial site to be built upon in New Orleans. According to Charles “Chip” McGimsey, a New Orleans archaeologist at LSU, the Superdome occupies what was once Girod Street Cemetery; it is well known that a section of Canal Boulevard was constructed over a graveyard. That it is not uncommon to build over burial sites in New Orleans is largely a result of the city’s geography. Due to New Orleans’ French Catholic tradition and location below sea level, many cemeteries in New Orleans–and throughout Louisiana–are built above ground.
Known as “cities of the dead,” these above-ground burial structures are part of the city’s unique landscape. With Halloween just around the corner, New Orleans’ historic cemeteries are worth exploring this time of year.
Like most New Orleans architecture, cemeteries in NOLA capture the city’s unique character. Below you’ll find photographs of New Orleans’ famous and lesser-known cemeteries.
When planning your trip to New Orleans, you should definitely check out Save Our Cemeteries, the local non-profit that works to preserve the city’s 31 cemeteries. They also offer some wonderfully informative tours.
Nicolas Cage’s Pyramid Tomb
Odd Fellows Rest
Marie Laveau’s Tomb