Paris has the Eiffel Tower.
New York has the Brooklyn Bridge. The Statue of Liberty. The Empire State Building.
Beijing has the Great Wall.
Cusco has the Machu Picchu.
Agra has the Taj Mahal.
San Francisco has the Golden Gate.
And Willemstad… Well, Willemstad has the Swinging Old Lady, Queen Emma!
Not quite a boat. Not quite a bridge. Her 168 meters and 16 pontoons floating over our Saint Anna Bay have inspired thousands and thousands of Google images, 50K+ YouTube videos. Her dreamy opening and closing, connects our picturesque-if-psychedelic Punda and Otrobanda for as many as 15,000 woozy pedestrians every day. Presumably the only permanent wooden pontoon bridge in the world, Queen Emma’s welcoming swings grant international cruise and container ships, sophisticated oil tankers, as well as sail boats and wooden boats permission to enter our awesome natural harbor several times a day.
10 things everyone should know about our Swinging Old Lady:
1. She was originally built by American entrepreneur and US Consul, Leonard B. Smith (#831), in 1888. Smith had the pontoons built in Camden, Maine and transported to Curaçao by sail boat. The movable section was built in two parts on the Motet wharf in Saint Anna Bay.
2. Smith considered naming her “Alliance” (because she connects our two parts of Willemstad with each other), but Governor Van den Brandhof proposed to name the bridge after Her Majesty Queen Emma of The Netherlands. (Rumor has it Smith obliged, particularly because his daughter was also named Emma)
3. She was inaugurated on May 8, 1888 and immediately doubled foot traffic between Punda and Otrobanda from 4,000 to 8,000 a day (as much as 20% of the population)
4. Though not immediately visible, a small operator sits in a cabin and controls two diesel engines that turn propellers mounted perpendicular to her length, allowing her to swing parallel to shore several times a day. The process only takes a few minutes to complete.
5. If you were wearing shoes between 1901 and 1934, you had to pay 2 NAf. cents to cross her. Savvy shoe-d pedestrians would take off their shoes to dodge the toll, whereas proud poor pedestrians (who didn’t necessarily wear shoes on a daily basis) saved their shoes for crossing (a special occasion) and proudly paid their 2 cents…
6. A free ponchi (small ferry) connects Punda and Otrobanda when she’s open.
7. Motorized traffic was allowed to cross her until 1974; after they had to cross Saint Anna’s crowning glory, Queen Juliana (#878) to reach the other side of town.
8. She has been renovated frequently throughout the years (1939, 1961, 1983-1986). Switching from wood to asphalt then back to wood. Her original wooden pontoons were replaced by more modern metal pontoons in 1983 – 1986 to accommodate growing foot traffic.
9. Cafes along our Handelskade (Iguana Cafe) and restaurants on the Otrobanda waterfront (Gouverneur, La Bahia) use her as ‘live entertainment’ throughout the day, and especially at night when she’s all sparkling nights. Ps: there’s nothing quite like watching New Year’s Eve fireworks over Saint Anna Bay, while she sways your worries away…
10. Cross her once. Cross her twice. Cross her a thousand times. Her warm swaying, calm crashing waves, emerging colors will remain a unique experience… One you’ll only find in our dushi Curaçao!
Source: Curaçao Maritime Museum Newsletter, October / November 2005.