, which is also the center of the Netherlands Antilles. It has a very bright city center, complete with traditional Dutch architecture, canals, drawbridges, cool shaded streets and alleys, and a constant temperature of 95 degrees F (35 degrees C) in open spaces.
The terrain of this quite plain and dry island is extremely diverse. There are small coves and picturesque bays along its southern coast, and the east coast has comfortable harbors with large ports.
The island was discovered by the Spanish navigator, Alonso de Ojeda, in 1499. Since the beginning of the 16th century, this land was under the protection of Spain. After them, the Dutch came and in 1634, the island came under the control of the Dutch West India Company.
The island's population is about 140,000. 60,000 of the residents live in the capital, Willemstad. About 80% of the population belong to the Roman Catholic Church and about 8% are Protestant.
The abolition of slavery, in 1863, marked the beginning of a long economic depression in Curacao. An oil refinery was opened on the island in 1916. Oil refining has since become a mainstay for fast-growing economy of the island, turning it into the most successful region of the group. However, the introduction of "clean" processing methods has helped to preserve the natural environment of the island.
Willemstad is the largest city and the administrative center of the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch established a trade settlement in the beautiful natural harbor of the Caribbean island of Curacao in 1634. As the island's economy prospered, it attracted a lot of Dutch and Jewish merchants. This led to a rich merchant city, with many mansions and business districts, to rapidly grow around the fortifications.
The modern city includes several distinct historical distinct districts, with the architectural style reflecting not only European urban planning concepts, but also styles introduced by Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese colonial towns, which were connected with Willemstad through trade relations.
In 1997, the inner city and harbor of Willemstad were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The coastline, that stretches along the entire bay area, is built up with typical Dutch buildings from the 18t-19th centuries. There are also magnificent mansions of merchant families, which are now used to house numerous shops, restaurants, museums, and cafes.
Being separated by a narrow and deep channel called Santa Anna Bay, or Schottegat, the city center forms two main districts: Punda on the east side and Otrobanda on the west. In the picture above, you can see the
- the pontoon pedestrian bridge that was specially constructed as a drawbridge for ships to be able to enter the harbor. When vessels pass through, it is drawn and you can get from one bank to the other by boat. Its stop is situated right here.
Traffic through the Santa Anna Bay channel is pretty significant. In the span of only a couple of hours, we saw passenger yachts, port fleet, military boats, and of course, tankers heading toward the tanker harbor deep in the island.
This road bridge, called Queen Juliana Bridge, spans straight across the Santa Anna Bay channel. The bridge stands at a height of 164 feet (50 meters), so it is not drawn for the passage of vessels.
In the picture above, you can see a container ship passing under the Queen Julia Bridge.
We stopped at a cafe on the waterfront of the Santa Anna Bay channel. The prices there were very reasonable.
Here, some local residents walk along the the streets of the center.
In term of the ethnic composition, inhabitants of the island are mostly descendants of cross marriages between different ethnic groups of the Old World.
The average life expectancy is 73.2 years for men and 77.7 for women.
According to sociological data from 2003, there are 924 men per 1000 women.
The literacy rate is 98% for men and 99% for women.
Before the abolition of slavery in 1863, the territory of Curacao, as well as the neighboring islands, was the center of the slave trade in the Caribbean.
From 1954 to 2010, the Antilles had been operating autonomously within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. At the time of my visit, in February 2010, Queen Beatrix was the head of state, and she was represented on the islands by the governor. Issues of foreign policy and military defense were under the responsibility of the Dutch authorities.
Our stop on the island lasted about 8 hours, from 8 am to 4 pm. After that, we headed toward Panama. My next story will be about the Panama Canal.
Author: River Pilgrim
Translated by: Olesya Zhukova