A stroll through Punda, the oldest district of Willemstad, is like taking a walk hundreds of years back in time. It is strange and fascinating to see such well-preserved Dutch architecture in the Caribbean but that is what distinguishes this capital of Curaçao, from so many others in the region. Along the Waterfront, lining Handelskade, the main street, is the conspicuously colorful row of building façades that create the island’s characteristic landmark.
Expect to be among the hundreds of photographers on any given day, either on the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, or in Otrobanda, trying to get that special photo of what is probably the most-photographed row of buildings anywhere in the Caribbean. Splashed in tantalizing colors that look even brighter on sunny, clear days, these buildings are centuries old and have been painstakingly restored and locked in their almost original state, all for the sake of heritage. The most famous and distinct one, is the Penha building at the corner of Handelskade and Breedestraat, dating back to 1708 and designed in Baroque architecture (rococo style).
Why is there constant restoration of much of historic Willemstad? Unfortunately, the material used in construction centuries ago, was basically a coral-stone base, coated with lime mortar. The salt content within, caused cracking and crumbling of the walls over the years, as weather conditions also took its toll. This is the reason why so many structures throughout historic Willemstad are being restored, as best as possible. Constant repainting is also done, either in bright, pastel colors or the distinct Curaçao pumpkin-yellow, seen on many buildings.
It is these very efforts that have earned the historic area of Willemstad, a special designation as a UNESCO World Heritage City, in 1997. Only a few other cities in the Caribbean have this honor, but this is the first of Dutch origin, not Spanish, as in the case of certain parts of the capital cities of Cuba, Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico.