Savannah. City apart. Unclassifiable. A full-fledged character in Clint Eastwood's film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Savannah reinvents the trip to the United States.
No more cities pulled up to the sky, no more steel, concrete, asphalt. Gone are the natural parks with thirsty lands planted with conifers, the soft languor of the Pacific beaches, the road and excess… Welcome to the mythical South!
Savannah, one of the most beautiful cities in America
Located in Georgia 350 km southeast of Atlanta, Savannah, both bourgeois and crazy, is a city that is tasted like candy. Camps set back from the Atlantic coast which slips into the heart of the land, here are narrow streets, colored houses, painted woods, cornices dripping with green plants, convoluted balconies, gates behind which we can guess a garden…
With its hundred-year-old oak trees draped in Spanish moss and its flower beds maintained like family jewels, Savannah assigns its twenty squares to daydreaming, to reading, offers its cobbled streets to the pounding of the hooves of horses pulling a carriage and its port at incessant ballet of container ships.
But unlike Charleston, its neighbor Savannah is not a museum city. Savannah lives and lives. Rich, cosmopolitan, bushy, promising, both creative and indolent, it now attracts New Yorkers. Because beauty perfectly combines the art of beauty with that of progress, and it is not the Savannah College of Arts and Design that will contradict us ...
Savannah, a journey through time
Savannah is oldest city in Georgia. Founded in 1733 by General Oglethorpe flanked by a hundred English and Scottish sailors, Savannah quickly took on the appearance of a model city, because Oglethorpe had strong ideas about what town planning should be.
He wanted to make the city an asylum for the poor of England and for Protestants of all countries, promising them more freedom and better health. He will draw a city at a right angle, a city made of squares and rectangles so that the area of the lots is easier to calculate.
These islets will therefore be divided into 9 plots (3x3), the central plot constituting an interior garden. Thus will be born 24 small squares (there are only 21 left today), bordered by colonnaded houses with ornate cast iron balconies.
Capital of Georgia during the War of Independence, Savannah is bitterly disputed with the English by the American independence army, which was joined by many French fighters. But the latter fell apart and the city remained in British hands until 1782.
In good southern city, Savannah then turns into cotton port of first importance. In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, the city councilors delivered it without a fight to the northern army of General Sherman who had just razed Atlanta a few days earlier.
It is perhaps thanks to this wise decision that Savannah can now take pride in having one of the best-preserved typical 19th century urban structures in the country.
Cotton, the white gold of Savannah
City characteristic of the Deep South (the old South), Savannah was built thanks to the bricks which were used as ballast to the three-masted from the Old World. Between 1790 and 1801, the cotton trade was in full swing, while the city benefited greatly from the slave trade.
Savannah will even be at the very beginning of the 19th century, the 2nd cotton exporting port in the world. A tributary of shipowners, bankers and wealthy traders, so much so that the city designed by Oglethorpe takes on the air of a little London under the sun.
We are busy, we build, we get richer. Large sailing ships go up and down the river in an incessant to and fro. Today, the docks of the Savannah river no doubt remember the song of the slaves and the grinding of hemp in the pulleys which were used to transfer the bales of cotton. At the end of the day he reigns over the Factor's Walk, the old cotton broker's path which runs alongside warehouses now converted into hotels, an atmosphere unlike any other.
Savannah's magnificent architectural heritage
From this flourishing period, the city has kept a architectural diversity unparalleled in the United States, with an impressive symphony of styles: Georgian, Victorian, Federal, Romanesque, Second Empire (French), but above all Régence (or greek revival) without forgetting the Italianate style, the most successful example of which is certainly The Mercer House which serves as a setting for the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
The fires of the late 18th and early 19th centuries unfortunately destroyed a large part of its first buildings. But the arrival in 1816 of William Jay, a young British architect (he was only 24 years old!) Brought to the city a real exuberance in terms of neoclassical style.
A great fan of the Regency style (a period dating from the Regency of Georges IV between 1811 and 1820), Jay imposes his trademark by designing buildings with Doric or iconic colonnades, pediments and cornices.
Impressive, however, these houses will not suit all tastes (and all budgets). Conservative and a bit austere, Americans will prefer the Federal style, more sober with its cast iron columns, balconies, balustrades and exterior stairs leading to the entrance doors. An architecture more in keeping with the ideas of a new Republic.
Savannah, a Phoenix made in the USA
"To understand the living, you have to communicate with the dead," says Minerva, the voodoo priestess, in Midnight in the garden of good and evil. The collapse of the cotton industry ruined the city in the 1920s.
Three decades later (1950-1960), a handful of women from the local bourgeoisie (wonderfully caricatured by Clint Eastwood) buy in extremis ruins promised to be demolished.
There follows a realization unique in the United States where the major cities of the United States see skyscrapers and shopping malls rise: downtown Savannah is decreed nationa historic centerl in 1966. For its part, the Savannah College of Arts and Design buys around fifty vacant buildings, thus making a major contribution to heritage preservation.
La literature and cinema will do the rest. First the entry scene of Robert Zemeckis' film Forrest Gump: we see a feather coming down from the steeple of the First Baptist Church located on the edge of Chippewa Square where Tom Hanks, sitting on a bench, awaits the bus with a box of chocolates on his knees. Then, the release the same year of the bestseller by John Berendt Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, then its adaptation to the cinema by Clint Eastwood in 1997.
Savannah, hotspot for American tourism
Today Savannah is one of the favorite destinations for American tourists. The latter come for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage to recapture the history of their country, queue on the sidewalk to discover southern cuisine or browse souvenir shops.
However, Savannah is not a very popular destination in terms of purchasing power. The tables (good, despite everything) tend to dry up the credit card in 3 taps of a pot. For its part, the price of a night in a bed & breakfast often reaches astronomical sums.
A city popular with springbreakers, prices often skyrocket, mainly around St.Patrick's Day, where all the fountains in the city's squares flow green and beer foams afloat for a good week (Savannah was heavily populated by the Irish community).
Because Savannah is anything but a city turned in on itself. Each year several music festivals take place there. The most emblematic being the Savannah Music Festival without forgetting the very crazy Savannah Stopover Music Festival which splashes the bars of the city with big rock that stains (but not only) for 3 days and 3 nights.
The mysteries of voodoo
In Savannah, mystery lives in everyday life. Some have even made a real business of it for a particular approach - more or less smoky it must be admitted - of the city. As a result, visitors disembark there to hunt ghosts aboard blood-red padded limousines that look like hearses, against a backdrop of certified haunted houses or even on the graves of the Bonaventure cemetery.
Must say that in the middle of the night, the savannah squares sometimes take on disturbing forms. To the wan and flickering lighting of the gas lamps are easily added the hoot of a stray owl, not to mention the dismal drapes of Spanish moss caught in the wind of the tall trees. Brrrr ...
Because Savannah was built on a cemetery and death has never left it. The planters imported there en masse slaves from the Gulf of Guinea, voodoo land par excellence, and many of them died in the process.
Of this sad period still remains Wormsloe Historic Site, Savannah's 1st plantation, famous for its magnificent avenue of century-old oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
Find all the tips, addresses and practical information in Routard Louisiana and southern cities in bookstores.
Consult our United States online guide
How to get there ?
Directly by plane to United. But you can also take an international flight to Atlanta (direct flight from Paris-CDG with Delta) and book a rental car from the latter destination, which allows you to visit Charleston, Beaufort and the surrounding plantations in the process. .
Find your plane ticket
Our good addresses on site
- Stephen Williams House museum of an antique dealer and collector. Breakfast is served in an imposing dining room lit by a Bohemian crystal chandelier, just that!
- Bed & dozen of houses. Most with old brick walls and beautiful furnishings.
- Café M: 128 East Bay St. A small “French” address run by an adorable couple. In addition to authentic pastries and excellent coffee, there is an assortment of pies, salads and sandwiches with Mediterranean accents, cold meats, a fine selection of French and Italian cheeses as well as imported macaroons.
- The Gray : 109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. A true gem of Modern Art, this authentic Greyhound bus station, restored to the condition it was in in 1938, was voted best design restaurant in 2017. It now serves as a showcase for Mashama Bailey, a newly arrived chef. de Prune, one of the reference addresses on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
- Six Pence Pub house mashed potatoes) but also hearty garnished sandwiches, generous salads and a good Key lime pie. Julia Roberts was filmed here for a sequence of Love and Lies (Something to Talk About, by Lasse Hallström).
- Mrs on the floor of an old brick house from 1869. You can help yourself at will!
Discover the city at your own pace:
- Above the market!
- By bike : Scad and Cat Bikes, are the 2 vélib 'services set up in Savannah. They work with the Social Bicycles and BCycle apps respectively. The first is for students. The second is for everyone. Information on www.catbike.bcycle.com
- By bus : 2 free DOT Express Shuttles serve the entire historic center, marking 2 dozen stops in total.
- By trolley: 2 companies offer to explore the historic center.
- Carriage : To play it "romantic", there's nothing like discovering Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage.
- Boat (Savannah Belles Ferry) : in the vein of the Express Shuttle which runs through the city for free, a ferry connects Savannah to Hutchinson Island, on the other side of the river.
To read :
- Complete Works by Flannery O'Connor (translated from the American by Maurice Edgar Coindreau), Gallimard, collection "Quarto", 2009. Immense lady of literature from the Old South, Flannery O'Connor, born in Savannah, delivers us here 2 novels and about thirty short stories of a strange and bewitching realism. The entire work of this woman who never left the family fold (she suffered all her life from lupus erythematosus), written in barely 15 years (she died at 40) is full of exaggerated characters, of violence , humor and beauty beyond comprehension.
- Midnight in the garden of good and evil by John Berendt (translated from the Quoyorkais landed by chance in Savannah. Literally bewitched by the elegance of this last vestige of the Old South, he decides to discover it according to his curiosity alone and the chance of encounters, all the more extravagant of them. one than the other.
- Savannah by Jean Rolin, POL, 2018. Jean Rolin leaves for Savannah, in the footsteps of his partner Kate Barry, who died on December 11, 2013. 6 years earlier, they had made a trip together in the footsteps of Flannery O'Connor, to whom Kate had a real passion. Rolin will make the trip again in 2014. Here he delivers a text strangled with emotion.
, 384 pages, € 35