Willemstad the capital of CuraÐ·ao consists of two parts; Punda and Otrobanda. The St. Anna Bay, a natural entrance to the Schottegat, separates the two halves, which are connected by means of the famous pontoon bridge intimately dubbed ‘The Swinging Old Lady’. Punda, originally â€˜de puntâ€™ (the point) in Dutch, was established in 1634, when the Dutch captured the island from Spain. Otrobanda means the other side; the name originated in 1707 when the first buildings were constructed on the western side of St. Anna Bay and Willemstad’s inhabitants needed to distinguish the new part of town from the older Punda.
Otrobanda is a historical melting pot with its fusion of many races, nationalities, cultures and languages, which formed a basis for CuraÐ·ao’s culture. In December 1997 Historic Willemstad was placed on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO. The World Heritage List compiles the most important vestiges from the past, in addition to natural sources and regions that are becoming increasingly scarcer. This organization covers about seventy cities, including Willemstad. The internationally recognized value of Willemstad consists of its historic cityscape, built by people with different cultural backgrounds during a number of centuries. The city tells the story of the world powers from the 16th and the 17th century and their roles in the Caribbean region. Willemstad still narrates the real authentic history.
The Handelskade or Trading Quay, commonly known as Awa sÐ±, lies on the Punda side. Up to the end of the 19th century, this was the main mooring place for ships. The most important buildings; offices and warehouses of Willemstad were situated along the quays. The unique architecture and red tiled roofs call Amsterdam to mind. The tiles came from Europe as ships’ ballast. After the ships were discharged, they were loaded with salt from the saltpans for the curing of herring.
The Dutch built several fortresses to ensure the harbor and the island. Fort Amsterdam built in 1634, used to be the most important of CuraÐ·ao’s eight forts. It was named after the Chamber of Amsterdam, a department of the Netherlands West India Company, which was in charge of the administration of CuraÐ·ao. Today it houses the United Protestant Church (The Fort Church), the Governor’s residence, the Ministry and several government offices. The Fort Church includes a museum. Fort Amsterdam is also on the list of World Heritage Sites of UNESCO.
Next to Fort Amsterdam lies Waterfort, which was part of the outer defense of Punda. During World War II, the fort accommodated numerous troops and anti-aircraft artillery was mounted on the walls. The arches, once used as brigs, now house a variety of cozy restaurants and terraces overlooking the sea. Riffort built in 1828, on the Otrobanda side, complimented the Waterfort and defended the outer section of Otrobanda. During World War II a steel net was stretched across the bay between Waterfort and Riffort to prevent enemy ships, especially submarines from entering the harbor. Nowadays, it houses a French restaurant and its terrace overlooks the harbor. Other well-preserved fortresses on the island include Fort Nassau, Fort Waakzaamheid and Fort Beekenburg.
Punda and Otrobanda are connected by a pontoon bridge; the Queen Emma Bridge, also known as the Swinging Old Lady. The bridge was built in 1888 by Leonard Burlington Smith and named after Queen Emma who reigned in Holland from 1890 to 1898. The bridge consists of boats supported by 16 floating pontoons. When the bridge is open to let ships from the harbor pass, pedestrians are transported free of charge by the ponchi, a small ferry. Another important bridge is the Queen Juliana Bridge; 185 feet above the sea level of St. Anna Bay, is among the highest in the world. Cross this bridge by car and you are guaranteed a breathtaking view of Punda, Otrobanda and the Schottegat.
The harborâ€™s unforgettable Caribbean atmosphere is also due to the several markets in Punda. The Floating Market is definitely worth a visit! These colorful boats from Venezuela which are located in the St. Anna Bay, is a unique place to buy fruits, vegetables and fish. The Public Market combines the conveniences of a grocery store with the charm of an old Caribbean market place: meat, fish, locally grown fruits and vegetables are sold every morning. The pleasant Old Market or Marshe is open on weekdays for an authentic local lunch. Visit the Marshe and share a picnic table while you enjoy a delicious grilled, BBQ style, meal of fresh fish or meat grilled on the spot. Donâ€™t miss this great opportunity!