ALABAMA, the Heart of Dixie

What to see

Mobile Bragg-Mitchell mansion - Cathedral Immaculate Conception - Fort Condé
Gadsden Interstate 65
Cullman Ave Maria Grotto
Hanceville Lady of the Angels Monastery
Birmingham Vulcan Park
Fort Payne World Capital of Socks - Little River Grand Canyon of the South
Woodville Cathedral Caverns
Other pages other states | articles

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cover new england

This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: South East

In the travel series View America, South East covers Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe directions, lodgings, restaurants, casinos or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 80 full-sized 600px-wide photos.

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ALABAMA is also known as the Heart of Dixie for the music, or the Yellow Hammer State after the yellow insignia on the uniforms during the Civil War, which looked like a hammer. The name Alabama seems to be a combination of two Choctaw words alba (vegetables) and amo (grower) that were given to the Alabama or Alibamon Indians.

Over some 450 years, Alabama came successively under the rule of the Spanish, the French, the British, the Americans, the Union (North) and the Confederate (South). In 1819 Alabama became the 22th US state. The capital is Montgomery and the largest city is Birmingham.

Alabama has approximately 4.5 million inhabitants, with a density of 34 per km2. With 26% the state has one of the largest black populations. The land surface is approximately 135,000 km2, which is forested for 68 percent. The state has always been a trash can for hazardous waste from other states. In 1989 a ban was imposed on further imports, but three years later, and through some heavy political lobbying, this ban was lifted... Obviously, most of the water in the state has become tainted, but then again, surely somebody must have made a profit on this deal...

King cotton dominated the whole economy until 1915, when the cotton crop was destroyed by the boll weevil insect. Furthermore the land became exhausted by years of overproduction. Farmers switched to other crops and the economy was diversified into industry. The State Capitol in Montgomery is one of the finest buildings in the US, and it served as the first parliament of the Confederation. Mardi Gras is a national holiday.

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Bragg-Mitchell mansion, cathedral of Immaculate Conception

A drive through downtown Mobile leads through "black" neighborhoods, with sad little houses and shops in a poor state, with iron bars on the windows...

The Bragg-Mitchell mansion was built in 1855 by Judge Bragg, and after his death the mansion was occupied by three other families. In 1925, the 70-year-old building was purchased by a certain Mitchell and completely restored. Mitchell lived there for forty years, and after his death in 1965 the house was donated to a foundation that maintains it in excellent condition. The interior of the building is open to visitors, but unfortunately only on weekdays...

The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception is situated in the old city center. It was built in 1839 by a French architect, Claude Béroujon, born in Lyon, France, in 1797. A splendid building, and just the beautiful stained glass windows by themselves are worth a visit!

Mobile : Bragg-Mitchell mansion

Mobile : Cathedral of Immaculate Conception

Fort Conde

Next to the port lies the restored Fort Conde. It was originally built in 1702 by the French as Fort Louis along the river "rivière de la Mobille", hence the current name of the city of Mobile ! Mobile was also the capital of La Louisiane for some time.

The fort was perfectly located on the banks of the shallow river la Mobille, so that large enemy warships couldn't get to the fort, and smaller ships were an easy prey for the French guns. The fort also served as a customs office, where duties were levied on all goods that passed. Fort Louis was renamed Fort Condé after the influential Condé royal family.

Mobile : Fort Conde 1 Mobile : Fort Conde 2


Lady of the Angels Monastery

We drove through fields and over small roads to the town of Hanceville, where in the middle of nowhere we visited the monastery with the complex and very long name of Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery. A mouthful!... This monastery of the Poor Claires was built from 1995 to 2002, on a perfectly maintained estate of 380 acres or 150 hectares.

This highly professionally built and truly monumental monastery has several highlights. The church itself deserves a separate chapter. The interior is exceptionally remarkable. The floors are ingeniously made from the finest Italian marble, the ceiling is a Gothic vault and the confessionals are made out of beautifully carved woodwork. The castle of the church was carved in wood by Spanish craftsmen and then gilded in 24 carat gold!

For the extraordinary stained glass windows they brought in specialists from Germany, and the doors of the church and the finishing of door locks and handles also are a story in itself. According to the brochure the whole structure was modeled after a 13-century Franciscan style, be it bordered with sides of white stone and Mediterranean half round tile roofs.

Hanceville : Lady of the Angels Monastery 1 Hanceville : Lady of the Angels Monastery 2
Hanceville : Lady of the Angels Monastery 3 Hanceville : Lady of the Angels Monastery 4

The Gift Shop called El Niño is located in a real Spanish castle (San Miguel), built in contemporary style next to the monastery. The interior is rather stodgy and crammed with old armor and wood carvings.

Just from an architectural point of view, the whole domain and the buildings are more than worth a visit, and the more technically minded can only savor the exquisite design and the exceptional craftsmanship, while the pilgrim will appreciate the strict religious atmosphere.


Vulcan Park

The city of Birmingham has always been the historic center of iron and steel in Alabama. In 1904 the city council appointed the Roman god Vulcan as a symbol of the city. Not only was Vulcan the Zeus' brother, but he was also the god of the fire and the divine forge, and the maker of Zeus' fearsome lightning bolts!

Vulcan's statue is the world's largest cast iron statue, with a height of 55 feet and a weight of fifty tons!

Birmingham : Vulcan Park 1 Birmingham : Vulcan Park 2