Curacao Forts: 400 years of History Merges with Today's Shopping, Restaurant, and Sight Seeing
From the time the Dutch West India Company claimed Curaçao in 1634, to the end of World War II, forts have been an important part of the defense and history of Curaçao. Today, forts continue to be important, but for different reasons.
We have not been able to learn how many forts the Dutch built but we do know that eight forts remain today. Below is a brief description of each of the remaining forts. Click on the fort name below to read detailed information about each fort.
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Waterfort (1635), built the year after the Dutch West India Company claimed Curaçao, is the oldest of the surviving forts. It was a defense for the outer part of Willemstad’s Punda district. The original fort was replaced in 1827 with a much larger structure, including 136 turrets and vaults. During World War II, Waterfort housed troops and was armed with costal and anti-aircraft guns. Today you can enjoy great food from a variety of restaurants on the terrace overlooking the ocean.
Fort Amsterdam (1635), on the eastern point (Punda) of the harbor entrance, is considered the most important of Curaçao’s forts and is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. Fort Amsterdam currently houses the Governor's residence, the Ministry, several government offices, and the United Protestant Church and museum.
An interesting historical note is that embedded in the southwest wall of the church is a cannonball fired by Captain Bligh's troops when they took Curaçao in 1807.
Fort Sint Michiel is thought to have been built in 1701. It is a small fort that defended the town of Sint Michiel and Boka Sami, which are a few minutes’ drive west of Willemstad. At its height in the early 1800’s, the fort housed 12 cannons. Though the concrete and stone walls of this small fort remain, little else is left. Trees now grow where troops once lived and worked. The fort open to the public for exploration, is also home to various birds and lizards.
Fort Piscadera was originally built between 1701 and 1703, at the entrance to Piscadera Bay, a short distance west of Willemstad. It is a small fort and at its height, was equipped with 14 cannons. Fort Piscadera was twice occupied by enemy forces; in 1800 by the French and 1804 by the British. The remains of the fort and surrounding land is now on the site of the Hilton Hotel which allows public access.
Fort Beekenburg (1703) is located on Caracas Bay and protected the “Spanish Water” inner bay. On multiple occasions, the fort held off pirates, as well as French and British fleets. This fort is our personal favorite. Though it has not been restored, it is in surprisingly great condition considering it is over 300 years old. You can easily explore the main structure, outlying buildings and climb an inner ladder to experience the commanding view atop the lookout tower.
Fort Nassau (1797) defended the Sint Anna Bay and parts of Willemstad. The fort, preserved close to its original construction, currently serves as the harbor signal control tower and regulates the opening and closing of the Queen Emma Pontoon bridge. The fort also houses a restaurant serving international cuisine, as well as a public viewing area.
Fort Waakzaamheid (1803) was built when the Dutch retook Curaçao from the British. It has a view over Otrobanda and was built to defend against a feared French invasion. The fort fell in 1807 to Captain Bligh of the HMS Warrior, after a 26 day siege. During World War II, the fort was used by the United States as an observation post and to house troops.
Rif Fort (1828), situated at the entrance to Sint Anna Bay, was built to defend the bay and Willemstad’s Otrobanda district. The Rif Fort is the best know fort among visitors, as it currently houses a shopping plaza, restaurants, bars and a terrace overlooking the harbor. Visitors arriving by cruise ship, or using the Renaissance secure parking garage, walk through the fort’s shopping plaza on their way to the Queen Emma Bridge and the shopping of Punda.
Enjoy your exploration of Curaçao’s history.