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The Historical Architecture of Curaçao

The oldest architecture of the city is in essence derived from Dutch seventeenth century architecture. However, right from the beginning, houses in Willemstad showed a unique character of their own. In the course of time, the architecture adapted to the local circumstances, such as the climate, available building materials and local craftsmanship. Because Punda had been walled-in, the available space was limited. Therefore, the houses in Punda were built in a way similar to those in the walled-in cities in Holland. The tall and narrow houses joined each other with a high façade on the street side. On the ground floors there were shops and warehouses, whereas the second and third floors were used as both dwellings and warehouses.

In the first half of the 18th century the gallery was introduced, mainly to create a buffer between the hot climate outside  and the interior of the house so that the inside temperature would be more agreeable. Wooden galleries, and later stone galleries, were added to the original fronts of existing dwellings. In new houses the gallery was incorporated in the design. Some old galleries, that were added later to the houses, can still be found.

Until the first decades of the 18th century the houses were characterized by tall façades with small triangular pediments on top. Underneath the pediment the construction date of the building was often displayed in a rectangular framing. These elements are typical of the oldest architectural style on the island. The oldest known dwelling that has a date in the top of the gable is the building that now houses the Postal Museum. This building was constructed in 1693 and completely restored in the early 1990s.

In the course of the 18th century the finest examples of Curaçao architecture were built. This architecture is called ‘Curaçao Baroque’ and it is characterized by its curved lines. Some very fine examples can be found in the center of Punda, e.g. the Penha building and the Sephardic Synagogue. However, the Curaçao Baroque style was also applied to houses in Scharloo and Otrobanda and to some plantation houses in the countryside.

In the beginning of the 19th century the architecture became rather plain. A modest gable with a small ornament on top  is typical of this period. All over the island houses were built in this style.

Finally, in the second half of the 19th century, the neo-classical architectural style was introduced on Curaçao. Houses that were built in this style have prominent cornices, hipped-roofs and typical classical elements such as pediments and columns. Until the first decades of the 20th century both very luxurious and rather modest buildings were created in this style. Examples of neo-classical monuments can be found in the inner city and on the former plantations as well.

From the 1930’s the Modern architecture style was introduced and became dominant in Willemstad for most of the 20th century.

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