An Admirable Restoration Project

Okay.  So I admit we didn’t do all the research we probably should have done before heading off on a short holiday in Curacao a couple of weeks ago.  And, yes, we regret that lack of research. No doubt, we’d have seen some things, or taken in some events that would have even further enhanced our visit.

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Instead we just arrived on the island and followed our noses as tourists.  And that has some value, too.    One unexpected, unresearched surprise happened while we were wondering around the Otrobanda quarter of Willemsted.  We turned a corner and discovered the Kura Hulanda Museum complex.

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This complex is an exquisitely resorted group of 15 buildings and their accompanying streets, alleys and public squares.  It now houses a “village spa and hotel” (complete with the casino which almost seems to be a required feature in the major hotels of Curacao), coffee shops, restaurants, and a significant museum.

IMG_5131The credit for this interesting development goes Dutch businessman, Jacob Gelt Dekker.  If I have the story right, he acquired an abandoned, old building and set to renovating/restoring it.  In the process, he discovered it’s connection to the early Caribbean slave trade. It was the site of a former slave yard and merchant’s home. He was so moved, that he changed his plans and made turned the building into a museum: which now houses the largest African collection in the Caribbean. Unfortunately for us, the museum had closed just 5 minutes (!!!) before we discovered it. This is where a little prior research would have served us well.

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After just 10 months of construction, the museum opened in April 1999. He then worked to acquire the surrounding buildings to create the complex which now span more than 16,000 square feet of neighbourhood. The name Kura Hulanda translates from Papiamentu (the local dialect) to mean Dutch Courtyard.

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It was absolutely delightful to walk through the lanes and discover museum displays, murals and admire the beautiful architecture and imagine life in this area back during the colonial days of Curacao.  That said, I daresay what we experienced was a cleaner, even brighter version of the original.

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The mission of the Museum Kura Hulanda is to acquire and exhibit collections related to the cultural identity of the people of Curacao, the Caribbean and the Atlantic Rim. I was impressed by this excellent example of urban restoration which perfectly marries form with function. What a way to preserve built heritage! Admirable!!

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WPC – Admiration