Set on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, 90 mi/145 km southwest of Jackson, Natchez was born in the cotton-boom days. Riverboats still dock there, although now they're more likely to carry vacationers than bales of cotton.

Established in 1716 as Fort Rosalie by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, the city is the oldest European settlement on the Mississippi River.

Nearly 500 historic buildings and homes are located in Natchez. At the Natchez National Historical Park, visitors can peruse the renovated William Johnson House, a mid-1800s home owned by one of the few free blacks in the Deep South prior to the Civil War, and the Melrose Estate, which provides a glimpse at antebellum elegance. Fort Rosalie, the French fort that was the original city site, is still undergoing renovation.

Other antebellum homes in Natchez (dating from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s) were built in a variety of architectural styles (Greek Revival being especially popular). Although some of the homes are open year-round, others can only be seen during special tours known as the spring, fall and Christmas pilgrimages. The Parsonage and Choctaw House are two standouts that can be seen during these special events.

Of those that are open year-round, consider visiting the Briars, the Burn, Dunleith, Longwood, Monmouth, Rosalie and Stanton Hall. We think Longwood may be the most interesting—the exterior of this huge octagonal house was finished in elaborate detail, but construction on the interior stopped in 1861 with the coming of the Civil War. Today, the house is carefully preserved in the same state—the exterior is grand and impressive, and much of the interior is exposed beam and brick. If you want to spend more time in one of these grand old homes, seek out a house that has been converted into a bed-and-breakfast: There are several to choose from.

The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians contains interpretive exhibits, reconstructed ceremonial mounds and a museum with artifacts. And the old red-light district, Natchez-Under-the-Hill, has shopping, dining and gambling.

Natchez is a good place to begin a scenic drive north on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

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