History of the Cabildo

The Original Seat of Government

Located next to St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo faces Jackson Square. The building takes its name from the Spanish Colonial governing body who met there — the “Illustrious Cabildo,” or city council. The original Cabildo was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1788 and was rebuilt between 1795 and 1799. The Cabildo became the home of the Louisiana State Museum in 1911 and was designated as a National Landmark in 1960. The building was designed by Gilberto Guillemard, who also designed St. Louis Cathedral and the Presbytere. The third-story mansard roof with cupola was not added until 1847, and it replaced the original flat Spanish roof and balustrade. On the second floor is the Sala Capitular, or “Meeting Room,” in which much of the official business of the building took place. When the Marquis de Lafayette visited the Crescent City in 1825, the city allowed him the use of the Sala Capitular as his residence.

Site of the Louisiana Purchase

The Cabildo has been used as a city hall, a courthouse, and a prison. In 1803, the Cabildo was the site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer, the event that acquired the Louisiana Territory for the United States, doubling its land area. In the 1870s, the building came under gunfire on three separate occasions, each time because of Reconstruction Era politics and racial tension. The Cabildo was transferred to the Louisiana State Museum system in 1908. Since then, it has served to educate the public about Louisiana history.

Authentically restored after Second Fire

In 1988 the Cabildo was severely damaged by fire for the second time, when the third story and the cupola were destroyed. Over the next five years, the landmark was authentically restored using 600-year-old French timber framing technology.

Napoleon’s Death Mask

The Cabildo contains displays of many interesting historical artifacts, such as the Emperor Napoleon’s death mask. On the third floor, “The Secret History of Rock ‘n Roll” exhibit showcases Louisianans who influenced rock music both locally and nationally.