Posted on February 03, 2015 by Janet Steinberg

She's "The Swinging Queen".

No, you're not hearing the words of a new ABBA song, nor are you reading the title of a hit tune in a "Mamma Mia" sequel. This Swinging Queen is Queen Emma, Willemstad's famous 19th-century pontoon bridge that, without saying a word, shouts "bon-bini" (welcome) to Curacao.

Queen Emma may be old and pudgy, but Queen Emma still swings. This venerable old lady, taking it somewhat easier in her late years, is now closed to vehicular traffic and has become a giant floating sidewalk for pedestrians.


The floating Queen Emma pontoon bridge splits Curacao's capital city of Willemstad into two neighborhoods: Otrobanda (which literally means "the other side") and Punda, the side more known to tourists.

Otrobanda, the "other side" of Willemstad, is traditionally more residential than Punda. In the 1950's, many of the area's stately mansions, which once housed distinguished professionals and politicians. Those mansions fell into disrepair when those prominent families moved to the suburbs. However, serious restoration efforts began in the early 1980's.

The neighborhood of Scharloo, across the Wilhelmina Bridge from Punda, offers an architectural tour of 19th century mansions. The basic architectural style--as well as the windows, gables, entryways, roofs, stairways and courtyards--show a wider variety of style and color than you will find anywhere else on the island.


The historical landhuis (land-houses) and homes of the wealthy residents in Scharloo, served as the primary inspiration for the design of the Marriott Beach Resort & Emerald Casino. The designers of this resort, tucked away on Piscadera Bay just 10 minutes from Willemstad, scoured Scharloo to collect paint chips and details of the tile and wooden ornamentation. Their findings were used to recreate authentic colors and to scrupulously incorporate the detail into the interior and exterior of the resort.

The deep ocher-yellow stucco facade of the resort, along with its white trim and traditional red tile roof, exemplifies the important role that color plays in Curacao buildings. In 1817, out of civic duty, the Governor outlawed houses that were painted white. The intensity of the reflected sunlight was deemed damaging to the eyes.

A worthwhile Otrobanda attraction is the workshop of Arawak Craft Products. At Arawak, you can watch artisans fashion tiny replicas of local architectural gems. Replicas of typical Curacao houses are priced upwards from $25.

Punda is the area that offers architecture, shopping, and tourism attractions such as The Floating Market and Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. This 5-block, pastel-painted Punda area of Willemstad offers a variety of merchandise. Handelskade, the street that goes along the harbor front, houses the colorful old merchant houses that grace Curacao's picture postcards. The major retail establishment of Penha and Sons is located in the town's oldest building across from the Queen Emma Bridge landing.

floating market

The Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, built in 1732, is Curacao's major tourist attraction. In some years it has been known to attract as many as 15,000 visitors. It rivals Barbados for title of the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. However, it does hold the title of the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.

Exuding an age-old tranquility, the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue is reminiscent of the old Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. Featuring a lemon-colored facade and gabled roof, its Spanish-tiled courtyard leads to richly carved, mahogany doors and paneling. The synagogue's floor, carpeted with white sand, is in dramatic contrast to its lofty ceiling that is adorned with silver and brass. The sand, symbol of the desert where the Israelites camped on their long journey to freedom, is also said to represent the customs of the Jews in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition. During those turbulent times, Jews prayed on sand to avoid being heard by their enemies outside the temples.


Curacao enjoys a well-earned reputation for religious, as well as ethnic, tolerance. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims have their own houses of worship and live side-by-side harmoniously. The island also has a high percentage of inter-ethnic and interracial marriages. Although over 80% of the population is Catholic, the small Dutch Protestant and elite Jewish communities have considerable influence.

From the 79 different nationalities represented in Curacao, the local language Papiamentu has developed. All the island's inhabitants have gradually adopted Papiamentu, a mixture of Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, German, African, and English. (Bon dial means good day; mashadanki is thank you.)

Curacao is delightfully delicious and its culinary melting pot overflows with cuisine from Dutch, Chinese, Indonesian, Italian, French, and Kentucky kitchens. Traditional Dutch favorites include erwtensoep, a thick savory pea soup that's a meal in itself. The locals love iguana soup, made from the ugly lizard of the same name. They claim it is so strong it can resurrect the dead from the grave. Keshi Yena, a whole Gouda cheese stuffed with meat or fish and then baked, and funchi, a polenta-like cake made of corn meal, are other island specialties.

A bridge that swings...a market that floats...storybook buildings painted every color but white...and immaculate streets lined with authentic narrow-gabled, red tile-roofed houses reminiscent of 17th century Holland...leave little wonder why the charming Dutch island of Curacao is considered one of the best islands in the Caribbean.


JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio

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