A Past Gone With the Wind: The Landhuizen of Curacao

Rif St. Marie Landhuis

Rif St. Marie Landhuis – 1680

Our imaginations and interest were immediately piqued on our first full day upon the island when our hostess casually mentioned the plantation houses of Curacao and pointed out a couple of these “kas grandi”  (great houses) during our introductory tour of the northwestern half of the island.  Architecturally unique to the Dutch Antilles, the landhuizen provided a backdoor to the culture and history of Curacao neglected in the discussions of the UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassed in the districts of Willemstad.

Landhuis Habaii now houses the Gallery Alma Blou

Landhuis Habaii houses the Gallery Alma Blou –  ciirca 1752

Landhuis Papaya houses a treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction

Landhuis Papaya is a halfway house for those with drug and alcohol dependencies – 1850

Landhuis Dokterstuin - now a restaurant serving local food

Landhuis Dokterstuin is a restaurant serving local food – 18th century

It was our good fortune that the first plantation we visited was the marvelously preserved Landhuis Kenepa, in Knip. Moreover, it was a museum dedicated not to the aristocrats who owned the plantation but to the slaves who built and toiled in the homes or under the glaring sun in the fields and salt flats of the owners. This intriguing structure highlighted the role of Sula (also known as Tula whose iconic image is seen throughout the island today) one of the leaders of a widespread, but ultimately unsuccessful, slave rebellion in 1795 which was brutally suppressed.

Landhuis Knip is now Museo Tula - also called Kenepa

Landhuis Knip is now Museum Tula – also called Kenepa – 17th century

Our knowledgeable guide, Michalyn, sang soulfully in Papiamento, a pidgin tongue originated by the slaves and now one of the two official languages of Curacao.  The songs, passed down through the generations, spoke of a far-away homeland, day-to day cares, faith and future dreams and were sung by the slaves while washing clothing, grinding corn and other required labors. The foreignness of the tunes and language coupled with that of the isolation of the plantation lent an ethereal quality to the restored house now furnished with a mix of artifacts of the master’s costly possessions and the slave’s scant belongings, work tools and handmade musical instruments.

Landhuis Savonet Museum

Landhuis Savonet Museum – 1662

The first mansions were built in the 17th century as the focal point of the plantation, surrounded by outbuildings and warehouses and, at their zenith, there were over one-hundred landhuizen on the island. They were built upon large foundations which provided a platform, or veranda, at the front and rear of the house and were usually built on hill tops so that the manor overlooked the plantation.  From this lofty vantage point the home was cooled by the sea breezes flowing through the open doors and windows on both levels. This location also allowed the plantation owner, the shon, to observe the workings of slaves and the overseers from the verandas and the elevated location provided a direct line-of-sight with at least one other landhuis to allow for signaling in the event of an emergency – say a slave uprising.

Landhuis San Juan neglected and in need of restoration

Landhuis San Juan neglected and in need of restoration – 1662

Landhuis Morgenster shuttered and vacant

Landhuis Morgenster shuttered and vacant – 1786

Landhuis Kas Abou is uninhabited

Landhuis Kas Abou is uninhabited – circa 17th century

The abolition of slavery in 1863 signaled the end of this period of domination. The system died a slow death, hanging on through a familiar pattern of share cropping, where the former slaves, for lack of other options, exchanged their labor to maintain the plantation for plots of land to tend for their personal use and erect the now historic Kunuku houses. However, the times and the markets gradually gave way to the arrival of Royal Dutch Shell and employment in its refineries and the related service sector in the early 20th century.  The whole landhuis edifice began to crumble with the owners and the workers moving into the city of Willemstad, to the Punda, Otra Banda or Scharloo districts depending upon their circumstances.  They began to build a social order free of the colonial plantation system.

Landhuis Zorgvlied

Landhuis Zorgvlied – destroyed during a 1775 slave rebellion

Landhuis Fontein ruins

Landhuis Fontein ruins

The manors themselves began to fall into disrepair. The intercession of the Heritage Foundation, a national governmental organization, and private individuals has managed to conserve about half of the original larger plantations; roughly 55 are still extant. Others, scattered around the island, are in various stages of disrepair, neglect and destitution with little hint of their former grandeur while nature moves to reclaim her own.

Landhuis Jan Kok - houses the Nena Sanchez Gallery - 1704

Landhuis Jan Kok – houses the Nena Sanchez Gallery – 1704

Landhuis Groot Santa Marta employs the physically and mentally handicapped

Landhuis Groot Santa Marta houses Fundashon Tayer Soshal which employs the physically and mentally handicapped – circa 1675

Landhuis Ascension open for tours and owned by the Dutch Navy - 1672

Landhuis Ascension open for tours and owned by the Dutch Navy – 1672

Our visits to several of the landhuizen expanded our understanding of both the history of slavery and the plantation system but also exposed us to the wonderful utility of which these remarkable relics have been converted.  While some are still private homes many have been transformed into museums, art galleries, restaurants, small hotels and commercial business interests, including at least one distillery.   These plantation houses with a brutal history mired in slavery, presented us with a unique opportunity to augment our perception of colonial Curacao and the living history of the landhuizen.

Landhuis Zeelandia now occupied by private businesses

Landhuis Zeelandia now occupied by private businesses – 18th century

By Richard and Anita



  • First let me say that I love your informative posts. My husband and I are planning on going to Curacao soon. One of our children advised us of this place, so we have to check it out. We lived on St Croix, USVI, for several months, a few years ago, so we have some experience living on an island.


  • I had the best lunch on New Years Day at the Klein Ste Marthe, an old Landhuis out towards Soto.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I am missing Landhuis Hato. It’s now Curacao Winery. Dutch owners, they started a vineyard and will starting with making wine at November 2015. They give guided tours everu wednesday and saterday from 3pm till 5 pm including winetastng. At this moment the wines are still from the Netherlands but soon from Curacao.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Cheryl McDonald

    Thank you for sharing. I was there back in the 90’s and the scuba group that I was with took a quick taxi tour of the island between planes. The friendly taxi driver was a hoot. We were running late getting back to the airport. He called his relative in the tower to hold the plane til he got us there. Never missed a plane in the islands. I have always cherished a picture that I took of the water front, not knowing until recently that my ancestor was a Capt.-Lt between 1643 and 1647 on Curaçao.


  • Thank you for this stunning excursion. The colors are exquisite.


  • You have presented a lovely collection of colorful Curacao plantation houses. I must have visited a few when I was there, but I didn’t see any among yours that I remember. Still, very enjoyable.


    • How great that you were able to visit some of these places. There are several more photos of additional plantation houses that we saw that weren’t included in this post and then there were the excursions where we never did find some of the Landhuizen that we wanted to see. Part of the fun and a good reason to return!


  • Another wonderful and informative post all about one of my most favorite places. I have never seen architecture like I saw in Curacao. Ahh it brings me back!


  • I am loving your posts from Curacao – and it’s great that at least some these houses are preserved for the total history, including the slavery aspect. And they are certainly beautiful.


    • Thanks so much Yasha! We’ve enjoyed going through the homes of the plantation owners and the former slaves and exploring this dark side of history. What’s amazing is seeing the fascinating cultures that have developed after slavery was abolished as well as learning about the social customs and traditions, both past and present.


  • You always entertain AND educate me with your beautifully illustrated posts – this is great!!


  • How nice that several of these restored structures are now housing people with disabilities!


  • Such an intense Dutch influence in the architecture, I kept forgetting where I was. The colours are amazing and the information about the plantations brings in another perspective


    • The architecture of the Landhuizen is a totally unique blend with the Dutch style adapted to the tropical climate and the open doors and windows situated to take advantage of the sea breezes. Each home had individual details that made our quest for searching out the Landhuizen around the island fun and fascinating.


  • I love the contrast between your last post on slave dwellings, and these of their masters. What an education you are providing us. I wonder if the abolition of slavery on Curacao was coincidental with the Emancipation Proclamation? These buildings are such a unique blend of Dutch and Caribbean architectural influences. It is so nice to see them being repurposed in positive ways.


    • It was extremely interesting for us to to look at both sides of the issue of slavery from the perspective of the dwellings that the people inhabited. Slavery was part of a crumbling institution around the world by the time of the Emancipation Proclamation and had been abolished in most European countries by then although, as you know, even today there are many different forms of slavery still.


  • I love the photos of the houses – both the restored and the ruins, Thanks for the history. Slave history is sometimes downplayed or completely absent at tourist sites on the islands.


  • What a vivid introduction to this dark past. Everyone’s seen the Dutch house fronts in postcards but this is the first inkling I’ve had of the plantations behind the facades. Great post and pictures.


    • Thanks Elaine. The houses that line the Punta shoreline are the iconic symbols of Curacao. The landhuizen are a less known but equally picturesque leftover of the island’s colonial past and the plantation system built upon slavery that’s an aspect of Curacao that many tourist don’t have the time to see.


  • Oh my, these Landhuis great homes are great. The yellow ones are so attractive. Why is yellow such a popular color? Loved those yellow Kunukus, too! You have seen Curacao from a niche angle! Congrats.


  • Wow, what a find. To think that there was a treatment approach for chemical dependency in the 17 th century is awesome. Tell us more. Are all the homes so colorful? What is the nature of local foods? Are there many schools or colleges on the island?


  • Both the Kunuku homes and the fabulous Landhuizen are completely unique and it was such fun for us to track them down and research them. We so glad that you enjoyed learning about them too!


  • From the history of the Kunuku homes to the kas grandi homes. It’s always a fascinating read! Thanks for the architectural history of this beautiful place.


We'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.