Initially established for the use of the clergy, the Presbytere is a historically significant structure found within the French Quarter. Currently, it is a section under the Louisiana State Museum and feature two exhibits. One of which highlights the festivities and vibrancy of the popular New Orleans festival Mardi Gras and the underscores the city?s resiliency in the face of many hurricanes that often sweep New Orleans.
Urban renewal immediately commenced after a big conflagration burned down the majority of the city center in 1788. A particular focus of this recovery initiative was Jackson Square where three popular structures were built namely St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo and the Presbytere. The construction of the three buildings was financed by Don Andres Almonaster y Rojas. Rojas moved to New Orleans from Spain and rose to the ranks of being one of New Orleans? richest residents. In 1791, Presbytere?s construction began first but the construction of the historic building was halted because of another blaze which hit the city in 1794. After the great fire, the completion of the St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo was given more importance which resulted to more delays to complete the Presbytere.
After a long wait, the Presbytere was finally finished in 1813. The present mansard roof was already a renovation and took the place of the initial flat roof.
The Presbytere was conceptualized by Gilberto Guillemard. Guillemard is also the architect behind the design of Presbytere?s twin building the Cabildo just on the opposite side of the equally beautiful St. Louis Cathedral.
Initially, the Presbytere was called Casa Curial and was originally intended to house the clergy of St. Louis Cathedral. The structure?s current name comes from a French etymology which means presbytery. However, the Presbytere never fulfilled its original role as the clergy?s house.
Financier Don Almonaster passed away in 1798. The new American leadership which completed the Presbytere opted to transfer a state of Louisiana?s courts to the building. The Presbytere was officially incorporated with the Louisiana State Museum and is currently the venue of the museum?s Hurricane and Mardi Gras galleries.
The Mardi Gras exhibit is housed in the upper level of the Presbytere. The Mardi Gras is actually the city?s adaptation of the European Carnival. The exhibit is called ?It?s Carnival Time in Louisiana? and features a few of the colorful and beautiful costumes that parade participants wear during the festivities. The extravagant costumes are frequently embellished with gems, sequins and feathers and are complemented with shiny adornments like scepters and tiaras.
Exhibit guests are treated to a wealth of information on Mardi Gras? history with illustrative posters, videos and photos as well as the colorful costumes and relics hailing from its origins in Africa and Europe, to the themed balls which took place during the 19th century to the Mardi Gras celebrations that we know of presently. A gallery dubbed as Courir de Mardi Gras centers of the celebration of Mardi Gras in the outskirts of the city which are very akin to the celebrations which took place in Europe during the medieval times.
From the festivities of the Mardi Gras, guests will be transported to a different place as they get face to face with the destruction cause by the many hurricanes that hit the city every year. The exhibit is named ?Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond.? The exhibit offers hair-raising accounts of the damage and following disorder brought by Hurricane Katrina. Images, artifacts and film clips offer guests a deep understanding of the difficult heritage of flooding and hurricanes that swept the city. Via the video clips and photos, the exhibit offers guests an idea on how hurricanes form and the how New Orleans residents and government authorities and city officials respond to the aftermath of the storm.