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The state of Mississippi, tucked between Alabama, Louisiana (separated by the mighty river from which the state gets its name) and Tennessee, with a tiny stretch of Gulf Coast right in the south, is often overlooked by tourists seeking a taste of the American Deep South. Those who opt for Mississippi's neighbours and ignore her charms lose out on a memorable experience in a state full of quaint towns, where wide-open spaces and porch swings combine with down home hospitality to yield many rewards for visitors.
The 'Magnolia State' has plenty of scenic beauty, and rich history, particularly associated with the Native American tribes that pre-dated European occupation and the battles of the American Civil War - the key battle of the war was fought at Vicksburg in 1863. Culturally the state has generated a wealth of talent, spawning such greats as Tennessee Williams, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Rodgers and B B King, not to mention the Blues, the music style that was born in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. The state also has more than its fair share of architectural treasures, particularly the huge concentration of magnificent antebellum mansions in Natchez.
When exploring all the attractions associated with this heritage jades, there is always the lure of the white sandy beaches of Biloxi and Gulfport down in the south, where the lights are bright and the pace upbeat among pulsing casinos and clubs in the Gulf Coast's fastest growing tourist hub.
The state's capital city is Jackson, sophisticated and well-ordered, filling the needs of city slickers more than adequately, while visitors yearning for the great outdoors have more than 150 campgrounds and six national forests to choose from, offering opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, cycling and boating.
Mississippi, also known as the Magnolia State, is filled with natural beauty and is steeped in history. It is no wonder people love this hospitable Southern state. There is lots to keep visitors occupied, whether it's the breath-taking views or the many notable historic sites.
The Gulf Coast Beaches and the water activities offered in and around the coastline are always popular with tourists. Apart from sunbathing and swimming, the Gulf Coast offers kayaking, paddling sports and boat cruises, all of which are sought-after.
History associated with the local Native American tribes and the battles of the American Civil War is a big draw for history buffs: The Vicksburg National Military Park immerses visitors in American military history and includes a cannon display and historic monuments; while the exhibits at the Old Capitol Museum explain the profound effects of the Civil War on Mississippi. In addition, there are six historical and national forests to explore, offering opportunities for fishing, boating, hunting, hiking and cycling.
Mississippi also has a lively cultural hub. Attractions such as the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum, as well as the Riley Centre where you can watch a stage play, give lovers of music and theatre something to enjoy. The state is also the birthplace of the Blues and has a plethora of high-quality live music venues to prove it.
In Mississippi there is beautiful scenery in almost every corner of the state. For the most spectacular landscapes, and a taste of the American Indian territory settled some 10,000 years ago, a drive through the Natchez Trace Parkway is a great way to spend a day. Hiking, horse riding and biking make for popular activities in the Parkway.
Originally called State House, the Old Capitol building has filled three purposes in its long history. From 1839 to 1903 it served as the state capitol, between 1917 and 1959 it housed government offices, and from 1961 to the present it has become an award-winning museum enshrining Mississippi's history. The exhibits are arranged in several categories, the highlight being 'Mississippi 1500 to 1800' which depicts the era when Americans, Europeans, and Africans first encountered each other in the state, drastically altering the lives and society of the Native Americans who lived here. Full-scale dioramas illustrate the importance of cotton in the state's development, and interactive audio-visual experiences explain the profound effects of the Civil War on Mississippi.
The Mississippi Governor's Mansion in downtown Jackson is the second oldest continuously occupied governor's residence in the United States. It was first occupied in 1842 by Governor Tilghman Tucker and his family, having just been built in the Greek revival style, the most popular style of the period. Today architectural historians consider the mansion one of the best surviving examples of this style in the country, and in 1975 the building was designated a National Historic Landmark. The historic section of the mansion, furnished in period Empire style, is open to the public.
Jackson's impressive planetarium is one of the largest in the world, with a huge hemispheric wrap-around screen that presents regular Sky Shows on astronomy, astronauts, and space exploration. The planetarium, situated in the downtown cultural district, also presents laser light concerts featuring the music of contemporary and classic rock and roll artists combined with the imagery of a powerful indoor laser system, as well as astronomy hobby courses and workshops.
The State's largest art museum, the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson houses more than 4,000 works, including the world's largest collection by Mississippi artists. With 75 percent of the permanent collection comprising of American artists, visitors will be able to view some of Georgia O'Keeffe's striking flowers and landscapes and Walker Evans' carefully photographed Depression images. The rest of the permanent exhibition consists of European, Asian, and Ethnographic art where contemporary masters such as Miro, Picasso, Degas, and Cezanne are viewable as well as gorgeous Japanese prints and South American ceramics.
The 125-acre neighbourhood near downtown known as Farish District is bounded by Mill Street, Amite Street, Fortification Street, and Jackson Street. It is one of the few historically black districts, built by former slaves, listed on the national register. It takes its name from Walter Farish, a freed slave who settled on the northeast corner of Davis and Farish Streets. The district was once the centre of political, religious, economic, educational, and entertainment activities for the black professionals and craftsmen who lived in the area's 700-odd buildings, most dating from between 1890 and 1930. Among the more notable buildings are 229 East Church Street, former home of Dr Sidney Redmond, wealthy and successful businessman, and the Farish Street Baptist Church. Renovation in the district is ongoing and private home ownership is being encouraged in an effort at urban renewal. The area is being redeveloped as an entertainment district, with many theatres, live music venues, and historic landmarks like Ace Records and the Speir Phonograph Company.
The Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates one of the most decisive battles of the American Civil War: the campaign, siege, and defence of the city of Vicksburg, 44 miles (71km) west of Jackson in Mississippi. Vicksburg was under siege for 47 days in 1863 as confederate forces vainly tried to defend the city high on the bluff guarding the Mississippi River. The battlefield at Vicksburg is in a good state of preservation and visitors can explore 1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles (32km) of reconstructed trenches and earthworks, an antebellum home, 144 cannon emplacements, the restored Union gunboat, USS Cairo, and the Vicksburg National Cemetery. While in Vicksburg don't miss a riverboat ride on the mighty Mississippi and a visit to the River City Blues Museum in Clay Street, with the largest blues collection on public display in the world.
The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, was born in Tupelo, northern Mississippi in 1935 in a humble home where he began his meteoric rise to fame. The simple two-room house where Elvis drew his first breath is now contained in a park, which has become a place of pilgrimage for thousands of fans every day. The city of Tupelo has other attractions to make a trip north of Jackson worthwhile. Elvis Presley Park includes not only the period-furnished house, but also a museum, memorial chapel, gift shop, and a life-size statue of the legend, aged 13, as he was when he moved from Tupelo to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family.
The most intact antebellum estate in the United States is the magnificent Melrose, owned and operated by the National Park Service in its grounds in the Natchez National Historical Park. Melrose was built in 1849 and still features its original hand-painted canvas flooring. The house is open daily with tours on the hour. The gracious Monmouth, built in 1818 at 36 Melrose Avenue, was the home of John Quitman, twice governor of Mississippi as well as US senator and congressman. The house and its striking formal garden is open daily. Longwood in Lower Woodville Road was built around 1860 and is the largest and most elaborate octagonal house in the United States. Dunleith, dating from 1856, is the only house in Mississippi completely encircled by a colossal colonnade. It is sited at 84 Homochitto Street, on top of a rise on the edge of a 40-acre park. Numerous other houses are open to the public and make popular venues for weddings.
The Grand Village was the main ceremonial centre of the Natchez Indians, who inhabited southwest Mississippi between 700 and 1730. Their culture reached a peak in the mid-1500s, when French explorers found the Grand Village and began to settle in the area. Eventually the Natchez were forced to abandon their land. The 128-acre site of the Grand Village is today managed by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, who have excavated and rebuilt two of the ceremonial mounds at the site. Entry to the village is gained through Jefferson Davis Boulevard within the Natchez city limits. The site features a museum, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, three ceremonial mounds (Great Sun's Mound, Temple Mound, and the Abandoned Mound), a nature trail, and a visitors centre. Tours are available, however advance booking is required.
Natchez features a collection of architecturally valuable historic churches of various denominations, all located in the central city area. Among them is St Mary's in South Union Street, the oldest Catholic building in Mississippi, built in Gothic Revival style back in 1840. The Trinity Episcopal Church in South Commerce Street is the oldest church in Natchez, having been built in 1822 but remodelled in 1838. The interior of this church features two rare stained-glass windows designed and installed by the renowned Louis Comfort Tiffany. Also notable is the First Presbyterian church in South Pearl Street, built in the Federal Style in 1828. A Romanesque chapel was added to the rear in 1901. The chapel now houses an unusual collection of historic photographs telling the story of Natchez.
The city's original waterfront area, Natchez-Under-the-Hill, reached by descending the bluff via Silver Street, was once the notorious haunt of pirates, riverboat gamblers and outlaws, known as the 'Barbary Coast of the Mississippi'. As the use of riverboats dwindled, so did its bad reputation and today the quaint river dockside attracts tourists with restaurants, bars, gift stores, and the floating Isle of Capri riverboat casino. Two passenger paddle-wheel steamers dock at the waterfront: the Delta Queen and the American Queen.
The Natchez Trace Parkway starts out in Natchez, southern Mississippi, and runs for 444 miles (715km) to Nashville, Tennessee, cutting across a corner of Alabama. The parkway follows ancient Native American paths that connected the Mississippi River to salt licks in central Tennessee, originally worn by the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and other tribes. Later white settlers used the ancient trails to extend their commerce and trade. The route is now served by a scenic road, built and maintained by the National Park Service, which has equipped the popular tourist drive with marked interpretive locations, historic sites, camping and picnicking facilities. Travellers can take time to enjoy nature trails, see portions of the original trace, relax on scenic overlooks, explore historic monuments and bridges, and find out about it all at visitor centres. The parkway is particularly popular with touring cyclists.
The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1932 by Francis Cook, and to this day, remains the Magnolia State's largest museum. A passionate student of Mississippi's natural resources, Cook's vision was to establish a museum that would focus on the promotion and protection of the state's natural landscape. In LeFleur's Bluff State Park, he chose an ideal setting for such a project. The museum grounds feature a 73,000 square foot complex overlooking a 300-acre natural landscape, 2.5 miles (about 4km) of nature trails, an open-air amphitheatre, a series of life-size displays of the state's diverse habitats, a 100,000-gallon aquarium network housing more than 200 living species, and a 1,700 square foot greenhouse. When one visits the museum, it is obvious to see that Cook's conservancy ideals have been faithfully followed over the last 80 or so years; and the museum's astonishing collection of more than a million specimens of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, invertebrates, plants, and fossils is nothing less than a living, breathing monument to biodiversity conservation.
One of America's most influential writers, Eudora Welty lived for 76 years at 1119 Pinehurst Plaza in Jackson, before bequeathing the house to the State of Mississippi when she passed away in 2001. The beautiful, Tudor Revival-style house was built by Welty's parents in 1925, and has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark. Significantly, the interior of the house has remained untouched; and visitors to the Eudora Welty house will be given the chance to see exactly how this Pulitzer Prize-winning author lived and worked - her books still line the shelves, and her typewriter still sits on the writing desk by the window in the upstairs bedroom. Included in the tour, is a walk around the exquisite gardens that Welty and her mother cultivated over the years. For fans of American literature, a visit to the Eudora Welty house-cum-museum is an absolute must.
Mississippi experiences mild winters and long, very hot summers with high humidity between May and September. Rainfall occurs throughout the year. Tornadoes, hurricanes and severe thunderstorms are possible. Average temperatures are higher along the coast.
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