Flanking the opposite side of St. Louis Cathedral from the Cabildo and fronting on Jackson Square, the Presbytere has a colorful history of its own.
Dating from the same reconstruction period as the Cabildo, following the disastrous fires of 1788 and 1794, the Presbytere was designed to look like the Cabildo. Originally called the Casa Curial (Ecclesiastical House), the building derives its name from the fact that it was built on the site of the residence, or presbytere, of the Capuchin monks. As with the Cabildo and the Cathedral, construction was financed by Spanish philanthropist and nobleman Don Andres Almonester y Roxas.
Throughout the 1800s the Presbytere was used for commercial purposes and served as a courthouse from 1834 to 1911. In 1847 the structure's mansard roof was added, along with a cupola that was blown off in a 1913 hurricane. The cupola was replaced in 2006, meticulously modeled after the old one.
Today, as one of the showcase units of the Louisiana State Museum, the Presbytere houses an elaborate and exquisite collection of Mardi Gras artifacts and memorabilia. The story of New Orleans' extraordinary Mardi Gras tradition is dynamically told in a high-tech, interactive, permanent exhibition titled "Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana." The exhibit traces the celebration from its ancient origins to the 19th century emergence of New Orleans' parades and balls to the present-day celebration that attracts millions of visitors each year. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to experience the excitement of watching a parade or riding on a float designed and created by Blaine Kern Studios, New Orleans' largest and most famous float-building facility.
Visitors will learn about the Mardi Gras celebrations in the state's rural areas, with rites that resemble those associated with village festivals of 12th-century Europe. The Museum's unique gift shop is worth a visit also. Here the visitor can purchase a treasure trove of Mardi Gras memorabilia -- perfect souvenirs for those back home.