The Storytelling Ironwork of New Orleans

The many wrought iron and cast iron balconies, fences, and decorative architecture of New Orleans hide fascinating details in plain sight. It's one thing to admire them, and another to learn the history behind them. The ironworks were created by slaves who learned the art from French, Spanish, and West African blacksmiths. Many feature Adinkra symbols that convey West African values and proverbs. Some contain pictures with different meanings. And some have a great story, like the balconies of the Pontalba Buildings, built by Spanish heiress Micaela Almonester y Rojas.  

Within the whorls of the balcony’s pattern are the initials “AP,” or “Almonester” and “Pontalba,” the two families that were joined together by the marriage that nearly cost Micaela’s life. In 1811, she was married off to her milquetoast cousin, Joseph-Xavier Célestin Delfau de Pontalba, and dragged from New Orleans to his family’s estate in France. Her father-in-law, the Baron de Pontalba, was desperate to get his hands on her inheritance, which he could legally claim if she left her husband. For years he tried to make her marriage miserable, but his attempts to chase her off were unsuccessful. Unstable and enraged, he shot her four times at point-blank range. When his murder attempt failed, he retired to his study and turned the pistol on himself.

The baroness returned to New Orleans and had several buildings erected which survive to this day. Read more about the ironworks of New Orleans at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Jan Kronsell)

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