Prepare to feast your eyes on buildings that look like wedding cakes. As I found out on my recent trip to Curaçao, the Willemstad neighborhood of Scharloo is THE spot for ogling opulent, vibrant architecture.
But how did these edifices come to be? Let’s take a trip through history…
In the 18th century, Curaçao was a bustling port, and shipyard owners were making good money. What to do with all that new wealth? Why, build mansions on the land next to the harbor, of course!
The neighborhood became a center for Curaçao’s Ashkenazi Jewish community — Jews originally from Eastern Europe (like my ancestors!) who had migrated to the Caribbean and found great success there as merchants.
In the 19th century, these merchants began to compete to see who could have the most ornate and fabulous mansion. Now, that’s some useful competition for those of us who love architecture!
The green mansion pictured above, for example, was built in 1916. It is called “The Bride’s Cake” and indeed, almost had me licking the curly white trim due to its uncanny resemblance to icing. The building now houses the National Archives of Curaçao.
This brings us to a charming update: These mansions are no longer residential, but rather, are now used for office space and government buildings. What this means is that the street boasts a bank that looks like a froofy blue cake!
What about that cute red building in the first photo of this article with the swooping white trim? That is now the office of a local newspaper! Lucky journalists, right? I can just hear them now: “Oh, this red cake building? That’s where I work. Please don’t eat my office.”
It’s not all banks and government buildings in Scharloo, however. A curvy yellow mansion now houses the Maritime Museum, and a mint green house has become (affiliate links here) this well-reviewed hotel. If you’re looking for great accommodations just a mile from Scharloo, I stayed at this hotel and loved it. (These affiliates support this site at no cost to you.)
Word on the street is that most of these houses have lovely courtyards in their hearts: airy patios where the merchants kept cool in the Caribbean heat.
Admiration must now be paid to the people who have worked so hard over the years to maintain and renovate these historic buildings, so their glory can be enjoyed, hundreds of years later.
I’m reminded of the wonderfully restored architecture of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and know that on both these islands, keeping buildings gorgeous over centuries takes a tremendous effort… which pays off in the happiness of all who see them today!
Let us also sing the praises of the landscapers: People who helped the magenta and gold flowers flourish around the jewel-toned houses, complementing their hues and proclaiming festivity throughout the street.
Examine the architectural details in the photo below for a moment. Can you imagine painting each loop-de-loop with a little white-dipped paintbrush, trying not to sweat onto your strokes as the Caribbean sun shines down?
I just love the red, green, and yellow “citrus slices” above each window, with the white “bubbles” popping out on the corners. Scrumptious!
Intrigued, and hungry for more about the cake buildings of Scharloo? Check out this excellent video about the neighborhood and its storied history from the Curaçao Tourist Board. It even reveals which building in Scharloo boasts the only mural-decorated ceilings in all of Curaçao!
Curious for more delicious, food-style architecture? You’ll love these real-life “gingerbread cottages” in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
So what do you think? Have you visited the ABC Islands or this part of Curaçao? Is this wedding cake architecture your cup of tea? Which of these buildings is your favorite? Do share!
Thank you to the Curaçao Tourist Board and Alex David Rosaria for historical research help for this article. Though I was a guest during my wonderful stay in Curaçao, all opinions and desires to lick buildings that resemble icing are my own. Happy travels!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!