Fort Amsterdam Curacao Image: Brouwers (flickr)
Fort Amsterdam Curacao is the most important and most visited of the eight forts on the island, all of which played an important strategic military role in the island’s history as recently as World War II. It is not the only fort in Willemstad Curacao or even the best restored. But it happens to be located in the most historic and picturesque district (Punda, meaning The Point) of the capital city, which is also its prime shopping area that is famous throughout the Caribbean for its diversity of sophisticated international goods and great bargains.
You can hop on the city’s sightseeing trolleys that last about 90 minutes and allow you to enjoy Fort Amsterdam tours as well as visit some of the other forts in the city. These include Fort Nassau (built in 1797), which houses a restaurant and the control tower that operates the pontoon bridge. This bridge crosses spans St. Anna Bay between Punda and the Ortrobanda District, and must be retracted to allow large ships on Caribbean cruises into the protected harbor. Fort Waakzamheid (dating to 1803) boasts a restaurant with fabulous views over the city, harbor, and sea. Riffort (built in 1828 is home to a new shopping village with several very popular dining spots. Both of these forts are located in Otrobanda near the Museum Kura Hulanda that gives more insight into the island’s history.
It is undoubtedly Fort Amsterdam Curacao that draws the most visitors. It is one of the first permanent structures built on the island and dates to 1635. Most Fort Amsterdam tours are done individually on foot as visitors also do their city sightseeing and shopping. Most sightseeing in Willemstad led by professional guides begins with Fort Amsterdam tours and then moves on to other parts of the city. It is built around a spacious central courtyard that you enter through a covered alley. The first thing you will notice is the bright yellow Fort Church, home of the first Dutch Reformed Church in the Netherlands Antilles. You can see a cannonball embedded in its walls from a skirmish with the English Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. There is a small and interesting museum here. Fort Amsterdam Curacao is also the home of the island’s Parliament and the Governor’s residence.
After your tour of a fort in Willemstad Curacao, you can head southeast about five miles to Fort Beekenburg set on a point protecting Caracas Bay and the Spanish Waters. Built in 1703, it is just across the bay from Jan Theil Beach and consists of fairly intact and picturesque ruins. There is a small fee to enter and explore its impressive round tower (now a roost for bats), walls, and fortifications. An interesting fact about Fort Amsterdam Curacao as well as most of the other forts on the island is what was used to construct them. The merchant ships that arrived in port from the Netherlands began their journeys to pick up goods with holds full of ballast stones. They offloaded the stones as they loaded cargo, and the forts were constructed primarily of these discarded stones. Whether you visit a fort in Willemstad Curacao or one of the more remote forts, you will get a taste of the long and rich history of this island.
Top image: cphoffman42 (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0