In the Punda district of Willemstad, not only are the historic buildings and colourful facades of the houses a crowd puller, Punda is also the first shopping address in Willemstad.
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PICTURES: Punda district in Willemstad
In Punda, the Dutch began to build their town in 1634 after the conquest of Curacao from the Spanish. Their first official act was to build a fort to protect the entrance to the harbour - the Fort Amsterdam was in the process of being built. Today, the historic fortress houses the governor's residence, as well as government and administrative buildings, and is the ideal starting point for a sightseeing tour of Punda.
Leaving Fort Amsterdam through the west entrance leads directly to Plaza Piar, which is adorned with a statue of the Venezuelan freedom fighter Manuel Corel Piar.
Not to be overlooked is the tower-like Val Plaza Hotel, which is already on the grounds of the Waterforts lies. This historic fortification wall was reinforced after the British conquest and today houses cosy restaurants and nice boutiques right by the sea in the so-called "Waterfort Arches".
After a few metres along the Waterfort, you reach the Wilhelmina-Plein, a park-like green square, the largest in Punda. Directly on Wilhelmina-Plein is the Stadhuis, Willemstad's town hall. The Parliament of Curaçao meets in this neoclassical building from 1859 with its opulent steps and the golden coat of arms of the House of Orange.
The end of the Wilhelmina-Plein is a smart yellow church. The so-called "Emanu-El" is the seat of a reform group of Sephardic Jews that split off from the Mikvé congregation ("congregation of hope") in 1864.
Speaking of the Mikvé community: Their synagogue is located in Hanchi di Snoa at the northern end of the Gomezplein pedestrian zone. The foundation stone of the Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue was laid in 1730, making it the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Its picturesque courtyard can be entered through a heavy wooden portal. For a fee, the interior of the synagogue, with its elegant mahogany pews and mighty chandeliers, can be visited.
Shopping in Punda
Via Columbusstraat, behind the synagogue, you reach the Wilhelmina drawbridge, which leads to the smart residential buildings of the Scharloo district. In front of it is the central market hall of Punda, where you can buy just about anything from fish, fruit and vegetables to cosmetics, woodoo items, souvenirs and clothes.
If you want to buy fruit and vegetables, however, you are better off at the "Floating Market". This is just a few metres along the banks of the Waaigat towards Sint Annabaai. Numerous boats have positioned themselves along the shore of the harbour basin and set up their colourful stalls on the street with an incredible selection of healthy delicacies.
The way back towards Fort Amsterdam is not recommended along the Sint Annabaai, but one block earlier via the Herenstraat. This pedestrian zone is lined with numerous magnificent houses, which often still bear the year of their construction (often in the Jewish calendar) on their façades. At the end of Herenstraat you come to Breedestraat.
On the right hand side rises probably the most famous and beautiful building in all of Willemstad. The ochre-yellow and splendidly decorated Penha building is one of the most impressive examples of Dutch colonial architecture. Today it houses the exquisite Penha perfumery, which is also worth a visit.
On one side, the famous swinging Queen Emma Bridge leads over the Sint Annabaai into the Otrabanda district, while on the other side it is worth taking a walk along Breedestraat, which is also lined with buildings worth seeing and leads up to Wilhelmina-Plein.