Punda and Pietermaai
The city of Willemstad dates from the Dutch conquest of 1634. Whereas the Spaniards had been content to erect simple stone dwellings, the Dutch set about fortifying the island almost as soon as their galleons were anchored in the port.
One of the first permanent Dutch constructions was Fort Amsterdam, guarding the entrance to St. Annabaai, which also housed the quarters of the island's Director (and later, the Governor) and became the focal point for the development of the city. Today, both the fort and the mansion itself are in excellent condition.
Initially, the city occupied the lands just north of the fort in Punda ("the point"), and was walled on three sides, to protect the European settlers from dangers both real and imagined.
The wall remained in place until the 1860s. By the mid 17th century, with a peace treaty signed with Spain, Dutch warfare quickly gave way to the more civilized but equally intense competition of international trade.
Punda's Oldest Building
Along what is now Columbusstraat, Madurostraat and Handelskade, the up-and-coming Dutch Protestant merchants built their combined offices, warehouses, stores and living quarters. The basic layout of this area, with its narrow, perpendicular streets, has hardly changed over the centuries. The original buildings in the core of Punda are well kept architectural gems housing booming commercial establishments.
By the early 18th century the enclosed city of Willemstad numbered over 200 houses, with almost nowhere left to build inside the walls. The first expansion of the city occurred about half a kilometer to the east, in the Pietermaai suburb.
At the time Pietermaai was a narrow spit of land between the sea and Waaigat inlet; part of Waaigat was later filled in, significantly widening Pietermaai. Residences were constructed on both sides of this spit, well apart from each other. Only after the Punda wall was pulled down in 1860 were houses built between Pietermaai and Punda.
Today some of the stately Pietermaai mansions have been restored as offices and commercial properties; others are still in disrepair.