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The word Otrobanda, used for the district on the opposite side of the famous pontoon bridge in Willemstad, is Papiamento for ‘the other bank’. Many people cross the bridge to take the much-seen photo of the pastel-coloured houses on the Handelskade in Punda. And in addition to these splendid views, the other bank also features many restaurants, luxury hotels and a great shopping mall.
In its colonial heyday, the rapidly growing Willemstad was expanded with a district across St. Anna Bay. The ‘other side’ soon became the less popular part of Punda; those who were unwanted within the city walls ended up here, in modest houses in small streets. The situation started to change in 1888. After the opening of the Queen Emma Bridge, rich traders moved over the water and started a new era, building the sort of spacious merchants’ houses you see on Brionplein square.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the new district of Otrobanda was as large and upscale as Punda. But it didn’t last long. The colonial warehouses and small palaces became run down and Otrobanda was inhabited by criminals. UNESCO nonetheless put the district on its World Heritage List to protect it from further decay, and this attracted the interest of Dutch entrepreneur and multimillionaire Jacob Gelt Dekker.
Dekker had a vision. He purchased 100 colonial houses and converted them into a beautiful 5-star hotel village, including swimming pools, shops, restaurants, bars, a spa and a slavery museum. The project was a success and Kurá Hulanda, Papiamento for ‘Dutch Court’, is now a member of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World association. Many employees actually come from the former problem area in Otrobanda which has also been largely restored since the hotel was built. Together with Punda, Otrobanda now comprises the centre of Willemstad.
“100 colonial homes were converted into a stunning 5-star hotel village. ”
Another great example of the amazing transformation of Otrobanda is the Riffort, one of the 8 fortresses on Curaçao. Built in 1828 on the eastern point of St. Anna Bay, its 56 cannons were supposed to protect the fort. In WWII, the fortress was used by the American army which closed off the harbour to German submarines by using a huge steel net. The stronghold went to seed after the war until a new purpose was found: the metres-thick walls of the Riffort now accommodate a luxury shopping mall, expensive restaurants and a 5-star hotel.