Historic Willemstad

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Historic Willemstad is located in the capital city of Curaçao, an island in the southern Caribbean. The island forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the city of Willemstad served as the capital of the Netherlands Antilles prior to its dissolution in 2010. Due to its location (near the oilfields of Venezuela), political stability and natural deep water harbor, Willemstad became the site of an important seaport and refinery. In fact, the refinery — originally built and owned by Royal Dutch Shell in 1915 — was at one point the largest in the world. The historic city center, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its Dutch-influenced architecture, consists of four quarters including Punda and Otrobanda, the two most visited quarters nearest the cruise ports.

Some of the most famous sites of Historic Willemstad, on the Punda side, include:

  • The Penha Building (above) – constructed in 1708 as the flagship department store for Penha, a retailer founded in 1865. Its bright yellow building with ornate white trim, green shutters and gabled rooflines is the most photographed building in Historic Willemstad.
  • Fort Amsterdam (below) – constructed in 1634 as the headquarters of the Dutch West India Company. It also served as the main military fort (of eight) on the island. Currently it serves as the seat of the government and governor of Curaçao.

Connecting Punda with Otroband, on the opposite shore, is the Queen Emma Bridge, a pontoon bridge across St. Anna Bay, known locally as “Our Swinging Old Lady”. The bridge is hinged and opens regularly to enable ocean-going vessels to pass. The propellers on the bridge allow it to swing parallel to the shore. It was built in 1888 as a toll bridge, though individuals without shoes were permitted to cross without paying the toll. Today the bridge is free to cross, as are the ferries.

On the Otrobanda side is:

  • The Renaissance Mall – a shopping center containing various luxury shops such as Tommy Hilfiger, Armani Exchange, Tiffany & Co and Guess.
  • The Rif Fort (below) – made of thick coral walls that once stored over 56 cannons, it was built to protect the island from invasion by pirates and other enemies. Today, it features local restaurants, live entertainment, and trendy bars.
  • Visited: Dec 2007, Feb 2017, Dec 2021
  • UNESCO: 1997

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