Punda, otherwise known as “The Point” has a long and interesting history in the formation of Willemstad. As the first settlement of the Dutch on Curaçao, and the first seat of government on the island, the neighborhood is awash in echoes of continual transformation. Once the nexus of the rich and powerful, the hub of commerce, and the bastion of social activity, it was the most highly guarded region of the island, flanked by two forts and three walls. And at one point in history, it was dubbed “La Boutique del Caribe”- French for “The Boutique of the Caribbean” due to its large concentration of shops selling the finest luxuries and fashions the region had to offer from all over the world.
But as residents moved out to raise their families in more rural neighborhoods, and "wall cancer" began to creep into the buildings - the decay initiated by the salt air - the neighborhood started to seriously decline. Though the Curaçao Monuments foundation has been busy for the last three decades restoring 17th and 18th century colonial buildings there, and the neighborhood has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Punda has typically only been known best for its colorful Handelskade.
Jorge Cuartas, creator and curator of the new museum, thought that was a shame. Born and raised on Curaçao, and having lived 30 years in the Netherlands, he returned to his native island and was struck by how little people knew about the neighborhood’s important history. He says, “Every street and corner of Punda has a story to tell. The oldest houses, buildings, and places of worship on Curaçao are there, and over the last 100 years, Punda’s character has changed drastically. So, I decided that people needed a place where they could witness the transformations somehow, and that was when I began working on ‘La Boutique del Caribe’ our main exhibit of the new Punda Museum." And the rest as they say, is history.
December 1, 2014, the new museum Punda Then and Now opened in a 17th century historic building that had been remodelled into a modern shop in 1966 by architect Ben Smit. The main exhibit “La Boutique del Caribe” shows the economic activity in Punda circa 1900 to today through photographs, memorabilia, slide shows, and scale models of well-known shops like Spritzer & Fuhrmann, Penha, El Louvre, El Globo, Boekhandel Salas, El Siglo, Palais Hindu, La Bonanza, Casa Cohen, and more. There is also space for rotating art exhibits and special events, and a small souvenir shop on-site. They also offer free Wi-Fi.
Cuartas says, “Punda is still an attractive destination in the Caribbean, and the grandeur of the town is certainly apparent in its architecture. I am delighted that so many visitors have left our museum to walk the streets of this neighborhood with fresh eyes and a renewed appreciation of its importance in Curaçao’s past.”
For a preview of some of the fascinating photographs on display see Impressions of Punda Museum.
The Punda Museum offers guided tours daily in English, Dutch, Spanish, and Papiamentu.
Entrance fee: $8. Private tours: $12. Admission free for children under 16 (must be supervised by an adult).
Museum hours: Monday to Saturday 9.30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Hanchi Snoa 1-5, Punda
Tel: (5999) 465-2992