Monuments of Curaçao


Historic Districts

Punda (9 hectares) on the east bank of Sint Anna Bay is the oldest district of Historic Willemstad. Punda refers to the Dutch word ‘Punt’, the tip of land on which it was built.
It began its development with the construction of Fort Amsterdam in 1634. Decades later, a fortified city was laid out adjacent to the Fort in an orthogonal grid pattern of narrow streets and alleys. It was designed following the old Dutch fortification system. Within the town’s ramparts two- to three-storey dwellings, mostly shophouses, were built on narrow, elongated lots. Later on galleries were added to the front façades. The synagogue Mikvé Israël Emanuel, oldest in the western hemisphere, was built in 1732 in the eastern part forming the final piece of the fortified town. Typical of Punda are the tightly laid out multi-storey shophouses designed to cope with the limited space available within the ramparts. A change in the military defense strategy led to the removal of the ramparts around the town which began in 1860.
Punda presently is the main shopping district of Historic Willemstad and the seat of government of the Netherlands Antilles.


Otrobanda (50 hectares) was built in the early 18th century to cope with the increasing demand for urban space for the people of Willemstad.
Called Otrobanda, the ‘other side’, it aptly refers to its location on the other - west - bank of Sint Anna Bay. An unfortified open lay-out of low-rise structures, Otrobanda developed quite differently from Punda. In Otrobanda four quarters, each with a different structure, can be identified. The Alley Area (Stegengebied), a maze of narrow streets and alleys, the Corral Area (Koralengebied) with spacious walled-in yards accommodating a mansion and servants dwellings, the IJzerstraat Area with sloping, curved streets, and the Hoogstraat Area, Otrobanda’s uphill area which became a luxurious residential quarter in the second half of the 19th century dominated by Belvédère, the governor’s residence in those days. The IJzerstraat area has recently been developed into the Kura Hulanda hotel and museum complex following a unique concept where hotel guests stay in restored historic dwellings. Here streets, alleys and intimate squares form the hotel’s infrastructure used as its corridors and lounges.
A sharp contrast to formal Punda, Otrobanda has retained its character as a colourful and lively working class district.


Willemstad World Heritage City

Historic Willemstad on Curaçao has gone a long way to earn the UNESCO hallmark of World Heritage City in December 1997.

Willemstad’s historic core had suffered from the public revolt of May 1969 in the city which left key historic areas partly destroyed as a result of the city fires ignited by the revolting masses. This was followed by sheer neglect of the city’s historic structures in the next two decades. A Building Ordinance dating from 1935 was the sole instrument to regulate the city’s development.

With the ambition to revitalize the city and to have historic Willemstad inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO the development of a coherent package of legal and financial instruments for the protection of the historic city was started in 1988 by ICAW Interregional Committee Action Willemstad. After ten years of hard work The Historic Area of Willemstad Inner City and Harbour was awarded the World Heritage status in December 1997.

With this, Historic Willemstad has met the test of outstanding universal value and has been acknowledged as part of the cultural heritage of mankind.

The Site

Willemstad developed on a strategic location on both sides of Sint Anna Bay on the southern part of the island. Sint Anna Bay is a narrow gateway leading to the sheltered inland bay of Schottegat, both natural deep-water facilities which have triggered the creation and further growth of Willemstad as a thriving trade settlement.

The Historic Area of Willemstad presently is made up of four historic districts, 17th century Punda (9 hectares), 18th century Otrobanda (50 hectares) and 19th century Pietermaai (9 hectares) and Scharloo (25 hectares). These are separated by the waters of Sint Anna Bay and Waaigat which have turned Historic Willemstad into an important and exceptional historic port-town in the Caribbean.

Willemstad World Heritage City consists of a core area, transmission areas and buffer zones. The core area is made up of Sint Anna Bay and part of the Caribbean Sea, and the historic districts of Punda and the larger part of Otrobanda. Transmission areas are the historic districts of Pietermaai, Scharloo and Kortijn.

There are two buffer zones, the waters of Waaigat and surroundings in between Pietermaai and Scharloo and the area north of the property stretching to the boundary of the site.

Furthermore specific monuments and groups of monuments with an outstanding cultural and historical value are included.

Maps: map with boundaries and zones of
WH-site and map of WH-property

A Family of Cities

Historic Willemstad’s meaning also is that it belongs to ‘A family of cities’ established overseas by the Dutch. Among Willemstad’s (1634) sister cities founded by the Dutch West India Company are New York (1625, Nieuw Amsterdam) in the USA, Paramaribo (1667) in Suriname, Recife (1637, Mauritsstad) in Brazil. Distant members of the family established by the Dutch East India Company are Cape-town (1652, Kaapstad) in South Africa, Galle (1640) and Colombo (1656) in Sri Lanka and Jakarta (1619, Batavia) in Indonesia.

Willemstad presently is among the three World Heritage Sites which are from Dutch colonial origin. The Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications and the Historic Inner City of Paramaribo became World Heritage Sites in 1988 and 2002.

The World Heritage Report

Historic Willemstad has been inscribed on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (ii), (iv) and (v) of paragraph 24 of the ‘Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention’.
(ii) exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design
(iv) be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history
(v) be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement or land-use which is representative of cultures, especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change

Its significance and cultural-historical value can best be summarized by quoting the recommendation presented to the World Heritage Committee, which reads:

The Historic Area of Willemstad is a European colonial ensemble in the Caribbean of outstanding value and integrity, which illustrates the organic growth of a multicultural community over three centuries and preserves to a high degree significant elements of the many strands that came together to create it.

Websites on World Heritage and World Heritage Sites UNESCO UNESCO World Heritage Centre Organisation of World Heritage Cities International Council on Monuments and Sites Organization of the Wider Caribbean on Monuments and Sites




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