Willemstad (World Heritage)

Willemstad (World Heritage)

The island was a Dutch trading base in the Caribbean from the 17th century. Since then, the cityscape has been shaped by colonial architecture. This can be seen in streets and monuments such as Fort Waakzaamheid and the Mikve Israel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the New World.

Willemstad: facts

Official title: Port and city center of Willemstad (Antilles island of Curaçao)
Cultural monument: historical Willemstad with St. Anna Bay, Punda and Otrobanda as well as Scharloo and Pietermaai, with 765 listed buildings, including Manor Belvédère and Hotel Venezuela, “Vif zinnen” and “Pachi di Sola” as well as Fort Amsterdam with fort church (1745) and Fort Waakzaamheid
Continent: America
Country: Netherlands, Antilles
Location: Willemstad, capital of Curacao
Appointment: 1997
Meaning: Example of a planned urban complex with a mix of Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese colonial architecture

Willemstad: history

1499 Spanish explorers, Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci, land on Curaçao and take possession of the island for the Spanish crown
1634 Dutch trading post of the Dutch West India Company
1634-38 Construction of Fort Amsterdam
1732 Construction of the Mikveh Israel Emanuel Synagogue
1795 Tula Rebellion, a slave rebellion in the spirit of the French Revolution
1797 Construction of Fort Nassau
1800-03 and 1807-15 under English sovereignty
1804 Siege of Fort Waakzaamheid
around 1865 Construction of the Belvédère manor
1866 Destruction of part of the city wall in the 17th century.
1888 Construction of the Queen Emma Bridge
1969 in the course of revolts by arson almost complete destruction of the buildings of the Plaza Brion (Otrobanda)
1970 Opening of the Jewish Cultural History Museum in two town houses from 1728
1997 Transformation of the Venezuela hotel into a museum

Sun yellow, sky blue and rose red

“Islas Inutiles” – “unusable islands” – judged Spanish sailors disparagingly when they discovered Curaçao and its two neighboring islands five centuries ago. On the other hand, the assessment of the Dutch about a hundred years later was completely different: They took Curaçao in the first half of the 17th century against the only slight resistance of the Spaniards and built it up as a trade base in the Caribbean. The island soon became an important hub for both the colonial goods so coveted in Europe and for the slaves “imported” from Africa, the “indispensable” labor force for the emerging colonies.

The history of the island is omnipresent in Willemstad: the fortified forts bear witness to the time when the Dutch settlement was founded. Fort Waterfort and Fort Amsterdam were built to protect the natural harbor of St. Anna, while Fort Riffort was built on the opposite side. The strength of the walls of Fort Amsterdam is still impressively demonstrated today by a cannonball that is stuck in the wall of the small church of the fort – allegedly a warlike “souvenir” of the captain of the famous “Bounty”, Captain Bligh. The picturesque ocher-colored Fort Amsterdam did not have to prove its stability for long, as it became the representative seat of government.

Under the protection of these fortifications, the settlement of Punda, “the point”, grew rapidly. On the other side of St. Anna Bay, too, a settlement emerged that was popularly known as “Otrobanda” – “on the other side”.

Since the dazzling white paint was banned in 1817, the splendid baroque and classicist commercial buildings stand out with their bright pastel colors. The gables and facades are decorated with delicate decorative friezes, white arches and columns. Handcrafted wood carvings are decorative eye-catchers on balconies, verandas and shutters.

According to businesscarriers, the gently curved gable friezes rising up from spirals, the column-framed windows with the decorative wooden shutters and the delicate floral ornaments create a charming contrast to the bright yellow paintwork and the brick-red gable roof of the building known as »Penha«. The fact that it receives special attention like no other building in the city is also thanks to its exposed location on the Königin-Emma-Brücke. The picturesque swing bridge, mounted on boat keels, has connected the two districts of Punda and Otrobanda with one another since the end of the 19th century. After the Queen Juliana Bridge was built, only pedestrians can walk over the “rocking old lady”. Another »Queen’s Bridge«, the Queen Wilhelmina Bridge, leads from Punda to Scharloo, where at the end of the century before last many wealthy business people, mostly of Jewish faith, settled. The Sephardic Jewish community, which has been based on Curaçao since the middle of the 17th century, owns the Mikveh Israel Emanuel Synagogue in Punda, which was built in 1732. In contrast to the inconspicuous house of God, the villas in Scharloo do not save with pompous adornment. From the colonial style of the 18th century to the Victorian style, everything is represented here. Probably the prettiest and best-preserved building is affectionately called by the residents of Willemstad in Papameinto, the colloquial language used in Curaçao alongside Dutch, “Bolo di Bruid”, “wedding cake”. And really: the elaborate decorations and the smaller second floor are reminiscent of a multi-tier holiday cake.

Willemstad (World Heritage)