15 Things You Might Not Know About Louisiana

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1. La Louisiane, named for Louis XIV of France, became a French colony in 1682 and passed to Spain in 1763. It was ceded back to France in 1800 and became part of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

2. Louisiana might be the biggest bargain in American history. In 1803, the U.S. paid $15 million for the entire Louisiana Territory, 828,000 square miles of land that nearly doubled the size of our nation. Adjusted for inflation, that’s still incredibly cheap: $729 million. Considering this land accounts for roughly 12 percent of the U.S. GDP, it’s safe to say that the Louisiana Purchase was a solid investment.

3. Louisiana is also known for its wacky legal system. Instead of using English common law like the other 49 states, Louisiana follows the system of most non-Anglophone countries. The legal system in Louisiana derives from the Civil Code established by Napoleon in 1804, which was combined with Spanish law and adopted by Louisiana in 1812.

4. Up until 2007, professional wrestling was banned in Louisiana, under the sham contest provision.

5. Louisiana is one of two states in the nation that doesn’t have counties (the other is Alaska). Louisiana’s political subdivisions are called parishes (Alaska’s are called boroughs.)

6. Louisiana has the tallest state capitol building in the United States. The 34-story building measures 450 ft and was built in only 14 months.

7. And just to clarify, the political capital of Louisiana is Baton Rouge (not New Orleans!). But the Pelican State is home to several quirkier “unofficial” capitals. Rayne is known as “The Frog Capital of the World,” Gueydan is called “The Duck Capital of America,” and Breaux Bridge was dubbed “The Crawfish Capital of the World.” Church Point claims to be the “Buggy Capital of the World” and Mamou bills itself as “The Cajun Music Capital of the World.”

8. Although the terms “Creole” and “Cajun” often used loosely and interchangeably, they refer to two distinct ethnic groups. Cajuns trace their ancestry back to France. They descend from a group of colonists originally known as Acadians who settled in Canada in the 1600s, were expelled by the British, and resettled in the Louisiana swamplands, where the name “Acadian” got shortened to “Cajun.” Creoles, in contrast, are an ethnically diverse group. In the 18th century, Creoles consisted of the descendants of the French and Spanish upper class that ruled the city. But over the years, the term expanded to include native-born slaves of African descent and free people of color. Today, the category “Creole” encompasses a wide variety of races and ethnicities—anyone of European, Caribbean, or African descent whose ancestors were born in Louisiana.

9. Cajuns and Creoles have distinct cooking styles. Creole cuisine was traditionally considered to be “city food” while Cajun cuisine was “country food.” Like the people, Creole cuisine is a blend of various cultures (including Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese) and uses a wider variety of ingredients and exotic spices. But perhaps the most notable difference is that Creole cuisine uses tomatoes, while Cajun food does not. So true Cajun jambalaya would never contain tomato.

10. Louisiana is home to the longest continuous bridge over water in the world: the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Composed of two parallel bridges, the causeway is 24 miles long and connects Metairie with Mandeville on the North Shore.

11. While Louisiana is known as the birthplace of jazz, it also claims to be the birthplace of the U.S. opera. America’s first documented opera performance took place in New Orleans in 1796. The show was a French-language comedy called Sylvain, by composer André Ernest Modeste Grétry.

12. The Battle of New Orleans, which made Andrew Jackson a national hero, began the day before the Treaty of Ghent was signed. Jackson and his forces battled until January 8, 1815; the treaty wasn't ratified until February 18.

13. New Orleans hosted its first Mardi Gras parade in 1837. The first floats appeared 20 years later, in 1857.

14. According to a New Orleans public ordinance, it is "unlawful for any person to use or wear in any public place, a hood or mask or anything of the nature of either or any facial disguise of any kind or description, calculated to conceal or hide the identity of the person or to prevent ready recognition of such person." The exceptions? Those participating in religious or educational exhibitions, masquerade balls, or—you guessed it—participating in carnivals or parades during Mardi Gras. In fact, float riders are required by law to wear masks.

15. New Orleans’s hotels rooms, which number in excess of 30,000, are usually 95% filled during Mardi Gras weekend.