Favorite thing: Named after some of the most memorable Dutch queens, these stately bridges connect the many waterways of Willemstad.
Queen Emma Bridge
Origin—Built in 1888 by Leonard Burlington Smith, and named after Queen Emma (1890–1898), this bridge connects the Punda and Otrobanda districts.
Points of interest—16 floating pontoon boats support the “Pontoon Bridge.” Also known as the “Swinging Old Lady,” it swings open using two powerful ship motors, allowing ships to access the port. From 1901 to 1934, people had to pay a toll to cross the bridge—with the exception of pedestrians going barefoot. When the bridge is open to let ships from the harbour pass, pedestrians are transported free of charge by the ponchi, a small ferry.
Note—the Queen Emma Bridge will undergoing restoration from August 2005 to April 2006.
Queen Juliana Bridge
Origin—Named after Queen Juliana (1948–1980). After almost a decade of construction, the bridge officially opened on Queen’s Day, (April 30) 1974.
Points of interest—One of the highest bridges in the world, at 185 feet above the sea level of St. Anna Bay to accommodate the tanker ships entering the narrow harbour, the Queen Juliana weighs 3,400 tons and has four traffic lanes. The view is breathtaking, and includes the entire panorama of Punda, Otrobanda, and the Schottegat.
Queen Wilhelmina Bridge
Origin—Named after Queen Wilhelmina (1890–1945), this bridge was built in 1928 to link the commercial area of Punda with the old residential neighborhood of Scharloo.
Points of interest—Originally a drawbridge, it was modified to a fixed structure after the dock in the Waaigat was destroyed.
Favorite thing: Between the blues of the sky and sea, you'll sea the distinct colors of Curaçao's buildings—part "New World," part "Old World," and completely unique.
It is said that one of the early Dutch governors, under the pretext of medical advice, outlawed buildings being painted pure white, because the reflection of the sun glaring off on them was said to cause major headaches and could lead to eye inflammation or even blindness. However, after the death of this governor, they discovered that he had shares in a local paint company.
Everywhere you look, you’ll see the wide array of lovely, bright colors enhancing the outside walls of Curaçao homes and buildings, particularly in Willemstad—one of the most photographed cityscapes in the Caribbean.
Favorite thing: Established in the mid-1600s, Willemstad’s covey of structures recall the quaint designs of Amsterdam, with exquisite 17th and 18th century Dutch colonial buildings not to be found anywhere else outside of the Netherlands.
In time, as Willemstad’s traditional styles were modified to accommodate the island’s dry and breezy climate, Caribbean accents such as verandas, porches, fretwork, and shutters were added. The color scheme was updated as well, introducing a bright, bold palette unheard of in the mother country.
Additional Dutch influences include:
Street Layout—Willemstad’s Otrobanda district is full of narrow alleys and wider main streets, reminiscent of 17th century Dutch provincial towns.
Plaza—For centuries, plaza’s have had many functions—most notably they were used for dining, trading, festivals, and ceremonies. Nowadays, several plazas are in use as open-air markets in Otrobanda.
Gabled Roofline—Steep-pitched tile roofs and neck- and Dutch-gable ends are hallmarks of classic Dutch urban architecture. These elements sit beautifully in the restored 18th century mansions of Scharloo and Pietermaai, and in the buildings along Schottegat Harbor.
Favorite thing: Outside Punda and Otrobanda, you’ll find Scharloo and Pietermaai, home to a wealth of gorgeous restored mansions. These two suburbs are listed along with Willemstad on the UNESCO World Heritage List, commemorating their unique value to the world's cultural and natural heritage.
Favorite thing: Otrobanda
In 1707, building permits were granted for Otrobanda, "The Other Side.” The buildings along Otrobanda’s Breedestraat were similar to those in Punda, with commercial space downstairs and living quarters on the upper floors. Off Breedestraat, a grand residential neighborhood was built by those eager for stately mansions reflecting their higher social standing.
In contrast to the neat grid of Punda, Otrobanda is a maze of twisting streets and alleyways, giving the neighborhood its own intimate charm. By 1774, with 300 houses, Otrobanda was as big as Punda. In the 18th and19th centuries, free blacks began to migrate to the city. Some of the spacious Otrobanda yards were built over with more modest living quarters and small craft shops, forming the city's first working class neighborhood and urban center. By the 20th century, Otrobanda had become a major cultural center for the rising black middle class. Many of the island's notable politicians, professionals, artists, and musicians grew up there.
Favorite thing: Punda
The gorgeous St. Anna Bay divides Willemstad into two major districts—Punda on the east and Otrobanda on the west. When the Dutch captured the island from Spain in 1634, Punda (from “Punta,” or “the point” in Papiamentu) was born. The new leaders began to build a fort, Fort Amsterdam, to protect their settlement, and soon the city began to grow.
Today, the Fort serves as the seat of the Government of the Netherlands Antilles. Along with what are now Columbusstraat, Madurostraat, and Handelskade ("Commerce Street"), the up-and-coming Dutch Protestant merchants built their combined offices, warehouses, stores, and living quarters. The basic layout of this area, with its narrow perpendicular streets, hasn't changed much over the centuries.