Queen Emma Swinging Pontoon Bridge, Curacao, Caribbean

In Curacao They Call Her Queen Emma, But She’s Really a Swinging Old Lady

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A steady stream of pedestrians crossing the Queen Emma Bridge in Willemstad, capital of the tiny Caribbean island of Curaçao, seemed unfazed by the shrill bell signaling that the floating pontoon bridge was about to open.

“Why aren’t they hurrying?” I asked my tour guide, Howard.

“The orange flag hoisted over the harbor master’s shack means the bridge will open soon…perhaps 20 minutes from now. But when the blue flag goes up – then you will see people running!” he explained.

Walking across the Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge

Unhurriedly, we strolled across the bridge from the newer neighborhood of Otrabanda to Punda, the oldest district of the city. Returning, we stepped back onto solid concrete just as the blue flag was hoisted and two powerful ship motors winched the bridge toward shore, allowing an enormous cruise ship to sail into to Schottegat Bay, the seventh busiest harbor in the world.

A cruise ship awaits the bridge opening

Can’t view the above YouTube video of Curacao? Click here.

When fully open, the bridge parallels the shore on the Otrabanda side of Santa Anna Bay

Affectionately nicknamed the “Swinging Old Lady,” Queen Emma Bridge is one of the oldest and longest non-military pontoon bridges in the world. Its unique design was a necessity; by the time a bridge was contemplated, buildings covered every inch of shoreline on the Punda side of the channel and a traditional bridge would have required destruction of many structures. When the original 20-foot wide steam-powered pontoon bridge was completed in 1888, tolls were charged: two cents for pedestrians wearing shoes, ten cents for horses and, later, 25 cents for each car, but so many pedestrians removed their shoes and crossed barefoot that the toll was finally eliminated.

Looking down on St. Anna Bay from Fort Nassau; Queen Juliana Bridge soars in the foreground, while the “Swinging Old Lady” is closing behind the cruise ship

In 1938, in order to accommodate increased shipping, the original bridge was replaced by a wider span, but increased harbor traffic resulted in long waits for cars wishing to cross. To remedy congestion, construction was begun on the Queen Juliana Bridge, which would ultimately soar 185 feet above the sea level, earning it the designation of highest bridge in the Caribbean and one of the highest in the world. When the Queen Juliana Bridge officially opened in 1974, Queen Emma was forever closed to vehicular traffic.

Tourists watch the Queen Emma Bridge open for ocean-going vessels

Today the “Swinging Old Lady” is one of Curaçao’s most prominent historical landmarks and a favorite with tourists who sip tropical drinks at waterfront sidewalk cafes and watch the bridge open and close to accommodate ocean-going cruise ships, cargo containers, and tankers.

Disclosure: Author Barbara Weibel visited Curaçao as part of a press trip, provided by the fabulous Marriott Resort and Emerald Casino, which is ideally located within walking distance of Willemstad.

15 Comments on “In Curacao They Call Her Queen Emma, But She’s Really a Swinging Old Lady

  1. Great photos of a swinging bridge. I haven’t traveled to the Caribbean. Maybe Curacao will be my introduction to the area. Looks beautiful.

  2. Who would have thought that the seventh busiest harbor in the world is in Curacao! Or that the “old swinging Lady” is one of the oldest and longest. I love the vibrant colours of the houses!

  3. What a wonderful sounding bridge. I love the idea of shoe wearers attracting tolls but bare footers not. Sometimes you wonder who thinks of these guidelines and what makes them occur like that.

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  5. haha, I was thinking “I’d just take off my shoes” – until I read that everyone had the same idea!

  6. First time here. Wow. Wow — wow! L-o-v-e your blog! Curacao is such a magic place… (sigh)
    Happy new year :-)

  7. We also have a swing bridge in Bristol that lets ships in and out of the harbour, but not as big as this one although there is a pub nearby where you can sit outside with a drink & watch the comings & goings. There’s something about being beside the water that’s rather relaxing.

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  9. Wow, it’s great that they’ve kept it around as most places probably would have destroyed it How long does it take to open and close?

    • Hi Sherry: It took less than five minutes to close – really pretty amazing considering its length and weight. And when it’s open, a passenger ferry continually carries passengers across the harbor.

  10. Every time I swear I’m never going to travel any time soon (sick of taking off my shoes and waiting in line), I read one of your posts and begin to get itchy feet once again.

    • Happy New Year Ruth! I totally agree with you about flying these days, but if you can bring yourself to do it, Curacao is a wonderful destination. Every person I met was gracious and welcoming and seemed truly happy that I had chosen to visit their island, unlike other Caribbean destinations I have visited. And the Marriott Curacao Resort was a perfect place to stay. Had it’s own gorgeous beach, great restaurants, a staff that bends over backwards to make sure your every need is met, and as a bonus, it’s within walking distance of Willemstad.

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