Curaçao is the largest of the Windward Islands Willemstad, the capital and an
UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an extraordinary city full of contrasts: European
charm, shabby and luxurious, culturally close to the Old World but lost in the
bottom of the Caribbean Sea, beautiful streets of shopping and great Restaurants.
It is best visited with time, on foot, notwithstanding the battered roads and
the non-existent street signs.
Willemstad is divided in two by the St. Anna Bay, the largest port in the
Caribbean. Punda, to the east, and Otrobanda, to the west are linked by a
pontoon bridge known as the "old waving lady." In Punda, the oldest district of
the city, the buildings are in the Dutch style of 1600 and 1700. The Mikvé
Emmanuel synagogue is the oldest in the Americas.
It preserves an original pipe organ. The floor is covered with sand to muffle
In the adjacent building is the Museum of Jewish Culture. Fort Amsterdam was
once the center of the city, now houses the central offices of the Government of
the Windward Islands. A cannon ball is still stuck in one of the walls of the
fort's chapel, in memory of the 26-day siege in 1804 by Captain William Bligh of
Mutiny On The Bounty infamy. Also in Punda, is the wonderful floating market in
which every day vendors come from Venezuela with fish, fruit and vegetables.
To the west across the canal we reach Otrobanda ( "the other side') that in 1600
was the first suburb of Willemstad, a site where lepers and criminals were sent
away from Punda.
The urban layout of the city, with buildings uniformly low, was defined in the
eighteenth century, to avoid being in the middle of the fire line of the coastal
defense of Fort Amsterdam.
During the Second World War The Riffort which rises above the sea to protect the
coast, was used as a telegraph station, radio station, desalination plant and
served as a refuge for the officers, later became a reception center for Scouts
and now is partly occupied by a luxurious restaurant. But the charm of Otrabanda
goes beyond its picture-postcard buildings. In the maze of narrow streets and
alleys branching off from the waterfront, houses and shops painted in elegant
pastel colors alongside spectral and dilapidated buildings, creating an
atmosphere of great contrast; the beautiful shop signs, all hand painted, give
each street a lively and strong personality.