During the colonial period, Curacao was one of the Dutch Kingdom’s most treasured Caribbean outposts. As a result, the Dutch worked for more than three centuries to secure the island and protect their interests. While forts were constructed along the entire coastline, the Dutch were especially concerned with Willemstad and its harbor. With Fort Amsterdam serving as the island’s primary protecting structure, the Dutch built several smaller forts to protect individual sections of the capital city. Despite being under constant attack from pirate ships and competing British and French forces, this complex of forts was able to protect the Dutch colony for nearly 400 years. Today, eight of these forts still remain and most have found exciting new uses in modern Curacao.
Fort Amsterdam is the most significant of Curacao’s remaining forts. Located on the strategic point known as Punda, Fort Amsterdam once served as the defender of Curacao’s main harbor. Originally constructed in 1635, the imposing structure was able to protect the Dutch settlement throughout the colonial period. Today, Fort Amsterdam is one of the Caribbean’s most recognizable UNESCO World Heritage sites and serves as an important government center for modern Curacao. In addition to housing the Governor’s home, the island’s Ministry and numerous government offices, Fort Amsterdam also features a historic museum and the United Protestant Church, both of which remain open to the public. The museum at Fort Amsterdam also offers tours of the facility that allow visitors to learn about the structure’s unique history, take in breathtaking views from atop the walls and witness some truly odd sights such as the cannonball embedded in the fort’s southwestern wall.
While Fort Amsterdam is unquestionably Curacao’s most significant fort, Fort Beekenburg is one of the island’s best preserved colonial structures. Fort Beekenburg was built in 1703 on picturesque Caracas Bay. From the time of its construction until the the mid-19th century, the fort successfully fought off attacks from French and British fleets, as well as several bands of pirates. Visitors to Caracas Bay will find a charming beach with shallow, warm water perfect for water sports. After playing in the water or simply relaxing in the sun, visitors can tour the entire fort and learn about its important role in Curacao’s history.
In addition to Curacao’s largest forts, there remain a number of well-preserved colonial forts throughout Willemstad. In each case, these forts within Curacao’s historic capital protected strategic points of the island’s harbor and populated coastline and now house restaurants and shops. Two such examples are Fort Nassau and Fort Waakzaamheid, a pair of smaller forts built near the beginning of the 19th century.
Fort Nassau was constructed in 1797 to defend the small St. Anna Bay and parts of Willemstad. Today, the fort is home to a restaurant, but is usually recognized by tourists as the control tower that opens and closes Curacao’s famous pontoon bridge. Fort Waakzaamheid was built in 1803 and fell only one year later during a siege by Captain William Bligh and his British troops. As Fort Waakzaamheid offers an incredible view over the Otrobanda neighborhood and the shoreline, American troops mounted new guns and used the structure as an observation post and barracks during World War II. Today, Fort Waakzaamheid also houses a popular restaurant.
Another pair of forts in Willemstad have been converted into even more impressive destinations. The Riffort – a fort built in 1828 to protect a portion of the Otrobanda area – is now home to the Riffort Village, an impressive collection of shops, restaurants, bars and scenic terraces. Prior to its use as one of Curacao’s premier shopping and dining destinations, Riffort was home to everything from police and public works offices to Curacao’s boy scouts. Likewise, the Waterfort – an imposing fort with 136 turrets that was rebuilt in 1827 after the original 17th century structure was destroyed – is now home to some of Punda’s most popular eateries.
As Curacao is home to a wealth of historic architecture and exciting tourism opportunities, these forts serve as wonderful representations of the island’s unique allure. When staying in Willemstad, it is certainly hard to miss the forts that once protected this colonial city. Likewise, with so much now offered within these once-imposing buildings – from museums and historic tours to upscale shops and restaurants – Curacao’s forts are also hard to forget.