Willemstad: The administrative
capital of the Netherlands Antilles, lies on the southern coast
overlooking the St. Anna Bay and is fabled for its Dutch colonial
architecture: the many gabled houses in beautiful pastel colors.
Legend has it that one of the early Dutch governors outlawed
white for painting buildings since the glare from the sun was
giving him headaches, and ever since, the tradition has continued.
The city offers many points of historical interest as well as
a number of attractions that are unique in the world.
Fortresses: Most of the fortresses that ring the harbor were
erected in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to fight
off attacks from pirates as well as the English and French
navies. Now many of them, with their sweeping, panoramic
views, have been opened up as restaurants and cocktail terraces.
Waterfort Arches, just outside of Punda were originally constructed
in 1634, but they were put to use again during World War II
when Allied Forces encamped there to protect the Caribbean
from Nazi submarines.
Fort Beekenburg, built in 1703 to defend the outer bays, has
been well preserved, and its main tower is still standing.
Fort Amsterdam dates back to 1769 and now houses the Governor's
Palace and a Dutch Reformed Church.
Fort Waakzaamheid was beseiged by Captain Bligh of "Mutiny
On the Bounty" fame in 1804, and an English cannonball
is still imbedded in one of its walls. Although largely in
ruins now, the fort has a lovely view and a dining tavern nearby.
Fort Nassau, which was named for the Dutch Royal House of Orange,
was built in 1797 and has been preserved in close to its
original state, with the recent addition of a restaurant
Riffort is an impressive structure built in 1838 with a commanding
view of the outer sections of Otrobanda .
Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge: The largest floating pedestrian
bridge in the world, it was built in 1888 by the American consul
Leonard Burlington Smith, who made a sizable profit on the
tolls he charged across it. For humanitarian reasons those
too poor to afford shoes were allowed to cross at no charge.
However, it had the opposite effect intended, as the less fortunate
would borrow shoes so as not to appear poor and the rich would
remove their shoes to save money. Human nature remains the
At 700 feet in length, it was regarded as a remarkable feat
of engineering in its day and is still a major tourist attraction
in Willemstad. The bridge floats between the two shopping districts
of Punda and Otrobanda, swinging open up to thirty times a
day to let in ships to St. Anna Bay. When the bridge is open,
a free ferry plys across the channel. The "Lady," as
it is fondly called by people who live here, gives the city
something of its distinctive character and charm.
Floating Market: Schooners come in from Venezuela to set up
market at the docks in downtown Willemstad to sell fresh
fish, fruits, and spices alongside of local merchants. The
colorful canopies make for a very picturesque photo opportunity
to remember the island by.
Mikve Israel Synagogue: The oldest synagogue in continuous
use in the Americas, Mikve Israel was founded in 1732 by
Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution in Portugal and Spain.
The floor is covered in white sand just as in the Old World
where Jews prayed on sand to avoid being heard in the temples.
The sand is said to symbolize the desert of the Israelites
and God's promise to Abraham to make his descendants as "countless
as the sands of the sea." Curaçao 's Jewish community
is much older than the synagogue, however, dating back to
1651 when 12 families crossed over from Amsterdam. The Beth
Haim cemetery goes back as far as the seventeenth century,
and many religious articles from the old community are on
display at the Jewish Historical & Cultural Museum in
the synagogue compound
Archives: Located in a large green mansion
called "Bolo di Bruid" or "Bride's Cake" in
the local language of Papamientu, the archives house historical
documents from Curaçao 's past in a place where some
of Curaçao 's wealthiest merchants once lived.
Gallery 86: The studio houses original paintings, sculptures,
and ceramics by many well-known artists from the Antilles,
the Netherlands, and throughout the Caribbean.
Octagon House: This eight-sided building provided sanctuary
for the sisters of Simon Bolivar when they were in exile
and now is home to the Bolivar Museum.
Landhuizen (the Dutch name for Plantation Houses): Although
not usually suited for large-scale agriculture due to the
dry climate, the plantations grew enough to support the families
that lived on them and mainly mined for salt. Peter Stuyvesant,
when he was governor of the island, divided the countryside
up into 'landhuizen' for more effective control of the land,
and the Dutch settlers depended on slave labor to cultivate
their properties until slavery was abolished in 1863. Many
of the old plantations are open now to the public for tours.
Curaçao Liqueur Distillery: The distillery, which is
housed in one of the old plantations, is open for tours and
Amstel Brewery: Tuesdays and Thursdays, the famous brewery
opens for tours, so you can see them brew beer from desalinated
When not marvelling at the towering cliffs that frame many
of the island's secluded beaches or snorkeling through the
coral reefs, nature-lovers may want to take in the rugged
beauty of some of Curaçao 's other natural attractions.
Christoffel Park: Surrounding Mt. Christoffel, the highest
peak on the island, Christoffel Park is a natural preserve
covering 4,500 acres of land near the northwest coast forty
minutes outside of Willemstad. Many species of plants and animals,
some of which are only to be found in the Netherlands Antilles,
can be seen here, and guided tours are offered by jeep, or
there are well-marked trails running throughout the park for
Boca Tabla: A grotto located on the northern windward coast,
Boca Tabla has deep caves carved out by the pounding surf.
Hato Caves: These limestone caverns feature stalactites and
stalagmites in unusual formations, underwater ponds, and
1,500 year-old petroglyphs. In the nineteenth century, the
Hato Caves were used as hiding places for run-away slaves,
and formerly, ancient religious ceremonies were conducted
Curaçao Sea Aquarium: Every species of indigenous marine
life is displayed in beautiful aquaria: sea-turtles, stingrays,
giant moray eels, and twenty-foot sharks, to name just a few.
Diving and snorkeling visitors can even get up close and personal
with sharks and stingrays in an unusual interactive exhibit
called Animal Encounters.
Underwater Park: A favorite dive-site for divers from around
the world, this 12.5 mile coral reef has been granted protected
status by the government as a national park. The fish have
been getting used to human visitors, and a semi-submersible
submarine also makes tours of the park for a drier viewing
of the sealife.
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