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Savor history and architecture in one of the South’s most beautifully preserved cities

Known for its elegant city squares, ornate fountains and stunning, centuries-old buildings, Savannah is easily one of the most charming cities in America’s South.

Founded in 1733 by British colonists, Savannah served as a vital port for commerce and settlers. By the 19th century, the city had become one of the South’s most important cotton-shipping hubs. Savannah was invaded by Union troops during Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea” in 1864. Sherman was so taken by the city’s beauty that he ordered his troops to spare Savannah from the devastation that had befallen so much of the Confederacy.

After the Civil War, the city shifted its focus to manufacturing, and many a WWII liberty ship was built in the city. By the 1950s, Savannah started to emerge as a popular tourist destination, owing largely to the abundance of well-preserved, beautiful old buildings coupled with its warm climate and excellent Southern hospitality. Savannah now receives some 13 million visitors per year, many of whom know the city from the book and film, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”


Savannah Historic District

Upon arriving in the city, many visitors make a beeline to the Savannah Historic District, one of the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts. The district is laid out on a grid that encompasses more than 20 public squares adorned with sculptures and graced with carefully cultivated landscaping. The city’s nucleus was built in 1733 based on plans by Gen. James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia. A majority of the area’s most impressive houses date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and here you’ll find a diversity of structures in styles ranging from Greek revival to newer beaux-arts construction.

Most visitors to the district make sure to stop by the beautifully preserved Marshall House, one of the city’s oldest hotels, dating back to 1851. Just beware: Many locals believe that a ghost roams the building. Don’t miss Johnson Square, the first of the city’s squares. Lafayette Square is also worth a visit, as it is the home of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, built in 1873. Dating to the city’s founding, Wright Square has long been the site of the city’s halls of justice, earning it the moniker “Courthouse Square.”



Noteworthy buildings on the square include the mid-19th-century Lutheran Church of the Ascension and the city’s main post office, dating to 1899. Oglethorpe Square is another must-see, with many of the city’s prettiest regency buildings, including the Owens-Thomas House, where Maj. Gen. Marquis de Lafayette once stayed. The house, which was ahead of its time when it was first built, is open for tours.

Taking a “Midnight” Tour

Many visitors come to Savannah specifically to take in the sites they know from “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” a true-crime book written by John Berendt that was made into a Clint Eastwood-directed film in 1997.

There are plenty of tour operators who offer guided visits to homes and haunts of the colorful people chronicled in the book. The book centers on the 1981 killing of a male prostitute by an antique dealer. Must-visits for fans include the Mercer Williams House Museum, which is open for public visits. Dating back to the 1860s, this house is full of beautiful old furniture and artwork, some dating back as far as the 17th century.

Bonaventure Cemetery is another “Midnight” setting, and even those who aren’t familiar with the book or film will find it a spooky but beautiful place to wander and see historic graves. Fans of the film will recognize Forsyth Park, notably its gorgeous cast-iron fountain and towering oak trees strewn with Spanish moss. Opened in 1903, Clary’s Cafe (known as Clary’s Drugstore in “Midnight”) is another important stop, and serves hearty hot breakfast all day.

History and Art Museums

Savannah’s fantastic museums cover subjects ranging from Southern history to maritime traditions. Those looking to learn about the state’s past should check out the Georgia Historical Society in the city’s old W.B. Hodgson Hall. Here, travelers can access a huge collection of artifacts and documents. A regular calendar of special events and lectures from area historians make it a good spot for history buffs. The Savannah History Museum in Tricentennial Park is also worth a visit, hosting an engaging display of costumes, miniature models, art pieces, and even film memorabilia, including the bench used in the film, “Forrest Gump.”

Savannah’s main contemporary art museum, the Jepson Center, opened in 2006 and features 7,500-plus square feet of gallery space, education rooms, a 220-seat auditorium with regular events, and the family-friendly ArtZeum, with lots of interactive exhibits that appeal to younger guests. The Telfair Academy, the first public art museum in the American South, is another must-see, notable for its 19th- and 20th-century American European art, with plenty of works from the American impressionist and ashcan school movements.

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