Two tall ships with the French Navy -- the Etoile and the Belle Poule -- sailed into downtown Jacksonville on Monday commemorating Capt. Jean Ribault's landing in the new world 450 years ago.
On May 1, 1562, Ribault’s expedition landed at the mouth of the St. John’s River, what the French called the River of May. Ribault erected a stone column bearing the coat of arms of King Charles IX to claim Florida for France.
The landing led to the establishment in 1564 of La Caroline, which became a refuge for the Huguenots, French Protestants who were fleeing religious persecution. The settlement was destroyed by the Spanish in 1565.
The National Park Service's Fort Caroline National Memorial commemorates this history.
The two modern French tall ship ships left Mayport Naval Station on Monday morning and cannons were fired as the ships passed the Fort Caroline memorial that bears Ribault's name.
"It’s part of your history. This is also French history. This is part of my history," said Gaetean Ribault, a direct descendant of the French Naval explorer. "We all share the same history, and that’s what I came for."
SLIDESHOW: Tall ships honor city's French history
"You know, French arrived here for the first time, and for sure their heart was beating very, very strongly, and well, this is how I feel this morning," added Ribault, who celebrated the anniversary with family, friends and spectators.
The French Navy’s tall ships will be open for free public tours Monday afternoon until their departure Wednesday morning.
"We were here before the Spanish, we had a foundation and we should celebrate that," said Lynn Corley, who's celebrating the French heritage in Jacksonville.
Students from the Ribault High School band played the French anthem, followed by "The Star-Spangled Banner" to kick off an entire week of festivities full of French-themed events from food to fun scheduled across the city.
It's been promoted by the mayor to showcase the city's diversity.
"We are an international city, global in perspective, and I'm going to do everything I can to really remind people of our history and celebrate it," Mayor Alvin Brown said.
Other events this week in honor of the 450th anniversary of Ribault's arrival on the First Coast include:
- Tuesday - 10 a.m. - The consul general of France in Miami and the mayor of Jacksonville will participate in a rededication of the Ribault Monument at the Fort Carolina Memorial and the opening of new interpretive exhibits that expand the story of Fort Caroline's history.
- Tuesday, 10 a.m. - Jacksonville's professionally-guided walking tour takes a twist on early French history in Jackosnville. Begins at the Jacksonville Landing.
- Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. - Greenscape of Jacksonville plants and dedicates a tree at Huguenot Memorial Park in honor of Jacksonville's sesquiquadricentennial.
- Tuesday 5 p.m. - Unveiling reception of the restored 30-foot mural "Ribault's Landing" at the Main Library downtown.
- Through Friday, several restaurants and businesses downtown are having French-themed specials. [Full list of participants, specials]
- Les Misérables!, based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel set during the French Revolution, opens Tuesday for a five-day run at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.