Wandering across the Queen Emma, Curacao’s famous floating bridge, is like stepping back in time.
Since 1888, the majestic bridge has swung back and forth to let large ships enter the Schottegat port in Willemstad, Curacao. Stretching 548 feet across the St. Anna Bay, the bridge welcomes curious travelers and container ships alike.
An iconic emblem of Willemstad, the bridge offers more than just a “Kodak moment” for tourists (or, in this age of millennials, the perfect selfie backdrop). While a bell tolls to signify that the bridge is about to swing open, a daring few like to hop and off the bridge as it begins to move.
Once the bridge separates from the dock, however, there’s no going back. Those who are “stuck” on the floating platform must ride with it as it essentially converts into a ferry boat and moves across the sea. Once the bridge is “open”, waiting boats can pass through to the other side. The whole process takes just a few minutes.
How does a floating bridge work?
The Queen Emma Bridge is classified as a pontoon bridge, also called a floating bridge. These use floats underneath a wooden deck over which pedestrians can cross. Most floating bridges are temporary, and are useful during emergencies or wartime. This is a fact that makes the Queen Emma bridge incredibly unique, since there are very few permanent bridges of its kind.
On one end, the bridge has a hinge that allows it to slowly swing open. On the other end, an operator controls propellers fueled by two diesel engines. The operator has a small shelter in which to sit. When the bridge opens to allow boats to pass, it swings parallel to the shore. It takes only a few minutes for the bridge to swing open and return to its original position.
History of the floating bridge
The Queen Emma Bridge was built in 1888. However, it has gone through many changes and renovations since then. From 1901-1934, it served as a toll bridge. Then, it was renovated in 1939 and 1961. The lighting arches that you can see in modern-day photos were installed in 1955 to welcome Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard during their royal visit.
In 1974, cars were no longer permitted to cross the bridge. To this day, the Queen Emma Bridge remains open to pedestrian traffic only.
- Locals call the bridge “Swinging Old Lady”
- When it was a toll bridge, pedestrians were allowed to cross without paying the toll only if they did not wear shoes.
- When the bridge must remain open for an extended period of time, a free ferry service is available for pedestrians.
- The most recent restoration took place in 2005-2006.
- The lighting arches are often beautifully decorated for the holidays.
- It is the oldest permanent wooden pontoon bridge in the world, and may be the only one of its kind.
- The story goes that when the Queen Emma charged two cents to cross, people would take off their shoes to avoid paying it. However, poor travelers who normally went barefoot would save their shoes for crossing the bridge, in order to proudly pay the toll.
Main image source: Flickr