Perched just below the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri river, ST LOUIS (pronounced, whatever Judy Garland may have suggested, “Saint Lewis”) boomed in the nineteenth century as the gateway to the West, and later played a significant role in the development of jazz and the blues (Josephine Baker, Chuck Berry and Miles Davis were all born here, and Scott Joplin developed ragtime in the city’s honky-tonks). As the name suggests, the roots of St Louis are French; originally part of Louisiana Territory, it was founded in 1764 by French fur trader Pierre Laclede and later became a major port for steamboats. In 1904 the World’s Fair was held in the city at the peak of its fortunes, but beginning with an ugly race riot in 1917 the population began to fall, decreasing by two thirds in just seventy years. Once the fourth largest metropolis in the USA, today St Louis is a medium-sized suburban city, best known for the mind-bending Gateway Arch, one of America’s most distinctive monuments, and Forest Park, with its bevy of free museums. An astonishing feat of engineering, the former dominates downtown St Louis; a glittering arc of steel, its vast size is hard to appreciate until you get up close. Designed by Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen and completed in 1965, the 630ft-high stainless-steel parabola commemorates the role of St Louis in the western expansion of the USA, especially honouring the epic Lewis and Clark Expedition, which set off from here in 1804, and all the pioneers that came after. It’s fun to take the four-minute tram ride up the hollow, gently curving arch, as tiny, five-seat capsules carry you to a viewing gallery at the top, where you can linger as long as you like – the views of St Louis, the mighty Mississippi and the surrounding tree-studded plains are spectacular. To avoid lengthy waits, pick up a numbered ticket early in the day and come back at an appointed time.
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