Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles

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Laura de Haseth Meddens was born in Curaçao in 1966. After growing up in England, Ireland and the Netherlands, she returned to her home island to continue her University studies. We hope you enjoy browsing through the information about Curaçao compiled from a variety of sources. It's an island full of fascinating history, attractions and people.

View of Willemstad.

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Curaçao (pronounced [ˈkjuːrəsaʊ]; Dutch: Curaçao, Papiamento: Kòrsou) is an island in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of Venezuela. The island area of Curaçao (Dutch: Eilandgebied Curaçao, Papiamento: Teritorio Insular di Kòrsou), which includes the main island plus the small, uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao ("Little Curaçao"), is one of five island areas of the Netherlands Antilles, and as such, is a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Its capital is Willemstad.

Curaçao is the largest and most populous of the three so-called ABC islands (for Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao) of the Lesser Antilles, specifically the Leeward Antilles. It has a land area of 444 square kilometres (171 square miles). At the 2001 Netherlands Antilles census, the population was 130,627 inhabitants; in 2004 the population was estimated at 133,644. Curaçao lies outside the hurricane belt, but can still occasionally be impacted by hurricanes, such as Hurricane Felix.

Origin of the name Curaçao

The origin of the name Curaçao is still under debate. One explanation is that it is derived from the Portuguese word for 'heart' (coração), referring to the island as a centre in trade. Spanish traders took the name over as Curaçao, which was followed by the Dutch. Another explanation is that Curaçao was the name the indigenous peoples of Curaçao had used to label themselves (Joubert and Baart, 1994). This theory is supported by early Spanish accounts, which refer to the indigenous peoples as "Indios Curaçaos".

Whatever the origin of the name, after 1525 the island appeared on Spanish maps as "Curaçote," "Curasaote," and "Curasaore." By the seventeenth century the island was generally known on all maps as "Curaçao" or "Curazao".

On a map created by Hieronymus Cock in 1562 in Antwerp, the island was referred to as Quracao.

The name "Curaçao" has become associated with a particular shade of blue, and is sometimes used as an adjective, because of the deep-blue liqueur named "Blue Curaçao".


The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak Amerindians. The first Europeans to see the island were members of a Spanish expedition under the leadership of Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The Spaniards exported most of the indigenous population to other colonies where workers were needed. The island was occupied by the Dutch in 1634. The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet called the 'Schottegat'. Curaçao had been previously ignored by colonists because it lacked many things that colonists were interested in, such as gold deposits. However, the natural harbour of Willemstad proved quickly to be an ideal spot for trade. Commerce and shipping — but also piracy — became Curaçao's most important economic activities. In addition, Curaçao came to play a pivotal role in one of the most intricate international trade networks in history: the Atlantic slave trade. The Dutch West India Company made Curaçao a center for slave trade in 1662. Dutch merchants brought slaves from Africa under a trading agreement with Spain called Asiento. Under this agreement, slaves were sold and shipped to various destinations in South America and the Caribbean. At the height of the trade, large numbers of slaves were traded here.

Dutch architecture along Willemstad's harbor.
Dutch architecture along Willemstad's harbor.

The slave trade made the island affluent, and led to the construction of impressive colonial buildings that still stand today. Curaçao features architecture that blends various Dutch and Spanish colonial styles. The wide range of other historic buildings in and around Willemstad earned the capital a place on UNESCO's world heritage list. Landhouses (former plantation estates) and West African style 'kas di pal'i maishi' (former slave dwellings) are scattered all over the island and some of them have been restored and can be visited.

The Queen Emma and Queen Juliana bridges.
The Queen Emma and Queen Juliana bridges.

Curaçao's proximity to South America translated into a long-standing influence from the nearby Latin American coast. This is reflected in the architectural similarities between the 19th century parts of Willemstad and the nearby Venezuelan city of Coro in Falcón State, the latter also being a UNESCO world heritage site. In the 19th century, Curaçaoans such as Manuel Piar and Luis Brión were prominently engaged in the wars of independence of Venezuela and Colombia. Political refugees from the mainland (like Bolivar himself) regrouped in Curaçao and children from affluent Venezuelan families were educated in the island.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the island changed hands among the British, the French, and the Dutch several times. Stable Dutch rule returned in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars. The Dutch abolished slavery in 1863. The end of slavery caused economic hardship, prompting many inhabitants of Curaçao to emigrate to other islands, such as to Cuba to work in sugarcane plantations.

When in 1914 oil was discovered in the Maracaibo Basin town of Mene Grande, the fortunes of the island were dramatically altered. Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch Government had built an extensive oil refinery installation on the former site of the slave-trade market at Asiento, thereby establishing an abundant source of employment for the local population and fueling a wave of immigration from surrounding nations. Curaçao was an ideal site for the refinery as it was away from the social and civil unrest of the South American mainland, but near enough to the Maracaibo Basin oil fields. It also had an excellent natural harbor that could accommodate large oil tankers. The company brought a degree of affluence to the island. Large housing was provided and Willemstad developed an extensive infrastructure. However, discrepancies started to appear amongst the social groups of Curaçao. The discontent and the antagonisms between Curaçao social groups culminated in large scale rioting and protest on May 30, 1969. The civil unrest fueled a social movement that resulted in the local Afro-Caribbean population attaining more influence over the political process (Anderson and Dynes 1975). The island also developed a tourist industry and offered low corporate taxes to encourage many companies to set up holdings in order to avoid rigorous schemes elsewhere. In the mid 1980s Royal Shell sold the refinery for a symbolic amount to a local government consortium. The government consortium currently leases the refinery to the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. In recent years, the island had attempted to capitalize on its peculiar history and heritage to expand its tourism industry.

In 1984 the Island Council of Curaçao inaugurated the National Flag and the official anthem of the island. This was done on July 2, which was the date when in 1954 the first elected island council was instituted. Since then, the movement to separate the island from the Antillean federation has steadily become stronger.

Due to an economic slump in recent years, emigration to the Netherlands has been high. Attempts by Dutch politicians to stem this flow of emigration have exacerbated already tense Dutch-Curaçao relations. In turn, a lot of immigration from surrounding Caribbean islands and Latin American countries has also taken place. This means that the population base is changing.


Curaçao gained self-government on January 1, 1954 as an island territory of the Netherlands Antilles. Despite this, the islanders did not fully participate in the political process until after the social movements of the late '60s. In the 2000s the political status of the island has been under discussion again, as for the other islands of the Netherlands Antilles, regarding the relationship with the Netherlands and between the islands of the Antilles.

In a referendum held on April 8, 2005, together with Sint Maarten, the residents voted for a separate status outside the Netherlands Antilles, like Aruba, rejecting the options for full independence, becoming part of the Netherlands, or retaining the status quo. In 2006, Emily de Jongh-Elhage, a resident of Curaçao, was elected as the new prime minister of the Netherlands Antilles.

On July 1, 2007, the island of Curaçao was due to become an autonomous associated state, under the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On November 28, 2006, the island council rejected a clarificatory memorandum on the process. On July 9, 2007 the new island council of Curaçao approved the agreement previously rejected in November 2006.[1] December 15, 2008 was the goal for Curaçao to become a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (like Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles are now), but it's likely that deadline will be pushed back.

Sea Aquarium beach

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Videos of Curaçao

Some of the beaches of the island

Cockpit View of 747B Landing at Hato International Airport in Curaçao