The gorgeous St. Anna Bay divides Willemstad into two major districts — Punda on the east and Otrobanda on the west. When the Dutch captured the island from Spain in 1634, Punda (from “Punta,” or “the point” in Papiamentu and Spanish) was born. The new leaders began to build a fort, Fort Amsterdam, to protect their settlement and soon the city began to grow.
Today, the Fort serves as the seat of the Government. Along with what are now Columbusstraat, Madurostraat, and Handelskade ("Commerce Street"), the up-and-coming Dutch Protestant merchants built their combined offices, warehouses, stores, and living quarters. The basic layout of this area, with its narrow perpendicular streets, still retains its original character.
In 1707, building permits were granted for Otrobanda, "The Other Side.” The buildings along Otrobanda’s Breedestraat were similar to those in Punda, with commercial space downstairs and living quarters on the upper floors. Off Breedestraat, a grand residential neighborhood was built by those eager for stately mansions reflecting their higher social standing.
In contrast to the neat grid of Punda, Otrobanda is a maze of twisting streets and alleyways, giving the neighborhood its own intimate charm. By 1774, Otrobanda was as big as Punda. In the 18th and 19th centuries, free blacks began to migrate to the city. Some of the spacious Otrobanda yards were built over with more modest living quarters and small craft shops, forming the city's first working class neighborhood and urban center. By the 20th century, Otrobanda had become a major cultural center for the rising black middle class.
Scharloo and Pietermaai
Just steps from Punda and Otrobanda, you’ll find Scharloo and Pietermaai, home to a wealth of gorgeously restored mansions. These historical suburbs are listed along with Willemstad on the UNESCO World Heritage List, commemorating their unique value to the world's cultural and natural heritage.