Fort Amsterdam and the Fortkerk

Colonial-era Willemstad was protected from marauding pirates and enemy navies with an extensive set of eight forts, six of which have survived intact into the present day. The oldest and most important is Fort Amsterdam, found at the entrance to Saint Anna Bay.

The Dutch West India Company constructed Fort Amsterdam in 1635, immediately after the Netherlands had taken Curaçao from the Spanish. The territory’s colonial masters lived safely within its confines and, throughout the centuries, Fort Amsterdam has remained the seat of Curaçaoan power. Today, the governor lives here, and there are also a number of government offices.

Within the grounds of the fort, you’ll find the United Protestant Church of Curaçao, built in 1769. The Fortkerk, or Fort Church, was built to withstand siege and has survived in remarkable shape. The only visible bit of damage is a small cannonball embedded halfway into the facade. It was fired by the Captain John Bligh of England, who was attacking Curaçao from his famous ship, The Bounty.

The church is of modest size, but quite pretty. The roof, painted a deep blue, has a clock right in the middle of it. There are simple stained glass windows on the eastern and western walls. The windward, eastern windows are slightly smaller, which allows a cooling draft to circulate. Another curiosity is the Fortkerk’s cistern, found between the church and an alcove that houses a small museum. In the days of siege, a large supply of water was vital, so the church was built in such a way that rainwater would filter through the walls, and collect here.

The church’s adjoining museum is alright, mostly old maps and portraits. The best piece is the antique clockwork, dating from 1788, which ran the original clock tower.

History is palpable in Curaçao, and no more so than when you’re standing in Fort Amsterdam. Here, it’s easy to imagine invading pirates stationed at the mouth of Saint Anna Bay, laying siege to the island, while from the fort, the Dutch defended themselves and their valuable new American property.

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