The Mansions of Scharloo
Found across the Waaigat Bay from Punda, Scharloo is the newest of Willemstad’s four historic districts and, as evidenced by its abundance of stately mansions, was home to Curaçao’s richest citizens. Today, the wealthy have moved on to other neighborhoods, but the mansions have remained.
Because it was outside of the city walls, Scharloo had been considered an undesirable place to live for much of Willemstad’s early history. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the neighborhood came into fashion. Jewish merchants were the first to recognize its potential and mansions began to spring up along Scharlooweg. The process only accelerated after Pietermaai was devastated by a hurricane in 1877, prompting Curaçao’s elite to look for a more secure home.
But the glory days of Scharloo were short-lived. The grand residences are still there, but few (if any) of them are owned by families as private homes. Some have been bought by businesses, others by the state, and a considerable number have been left to deteriorate.
We took a stroll through the Scharloo on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and found the vibe to be more of “desolate creepiness” than “refined opulence.” All the stores were closed, and the only people we encountered were two drunk guys, one of whom decided that he was going to give us a tour of the neighborhood, protests to the contrary be damned. Luckily, stumbling drunks are easy to outdistance.
But the mansions in the Scharloo really are amazing. Most of them are on Scharlooweg, the long street which runs parallel to the Waaigat Harbor. Just like all the houses on Curaçao, Scharloo’s mansions come in a rainbow of vibrant color. Forest green, cotton candy pink, blood red, sky blue, and all of them with neoclassical flourishes like white columns, triangular pediments and decorated cornices.
Scharloo’s golden age might have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean its story is over. Seeing the potential in the neighborhood’s grand architecture, investors have been renovating them as guesthouses and boutique hotels, similar to what’s already happened in Pietermaai. Although we love the romantic and mysterious atmosphere generated by huge, dilapidated mansions, it’s a good thing that this historic neighborhood isn’t being totally neglected.