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The clock gables on the Handelskade are featured on most postcards sent from Willemstad. The photogenic houses are reminiscent of the Amsterdam canals with one major difference: the buildings are brightly coloured in ochre, orange, blue or pink. The first Dutch Governor said that the sunlight reflecting off the white gables was giving him a headache and ordered the houses to be painted. It later transpired that he had struck a deal with a Dutch paint factory!
Punda is the most picturesque cityscape in the Caribbean. The oldest district of Willemstad comprises a stunning collection of Dutch colonial architecture. Fort Amsterdam, the current home of the Curaçao government, was the first of many strongholds built here by the Dutch in the 17th century. The nearby Waterfort is home to restaurants, terraces and lounge bars on the waterfront. Menus include typical Dutch favourites such as croquet rolls and beer, priced in guilders, the former currency of the Netherlands.
The colonial heart of Willemstad is one of the six Caribbean sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It earned this title partly due to the pride of Curaçao - the Penha building on the corner of Handelskade and Heerenstraat. This huge canary-yellow warehouse and home with its red-tiled roof from 1708 has no fewer than 4 typical clock gables. The elegant curves, decorations and curls show that the colonial buildings in Willemstad are not as Dutch as they initially seem. Architects were often influenced by other colonial powers such as the Spanish and Portuguese.
Straight across from Penha is another of the island’s treasures: the Queen Emma Bridge from 1888, also locally known as the ‘ferry bridge’. This connection between the districts on either side of St. Anna Bay is the world’s only floating wooden pontoon bridge. It opens many times a day to let vessels into the port, at which time pedestrians get to the other side by ponchi (ferry).
“Little Amsterdam in the tropics: a bright mix or ochre, soft orange, baby blue and soft pink.”
The Spanish ‘discovered’ Curaçao and its Indian people in the late 15th century. When they failed to find any valuable resources, they called it an isla inútil, a useless island, and soon departed. In 1634 the Dutch West Indies Company took over the island. They immediately started building Fort Amsterdam to defend the strategically located port, and established plantations for sugar cane, cotton and tobacco. Curaçao developed into the centre of the Dutch slave trade, and Willemstad became the flourishing port city. The result is still visible today: no other Caribbean island has more protected monuments (over 860) than Curaçao.