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stepping stones of maritime history


It is believed by researchers that the Paardenbaai harbor at Oranjestad was used during the Ceramic period (900/1000 AD – 1515 AD) by the indigenous people. This is based on the maritime landscape characteristics and way of life of the indigenous people, which in turn indicate that this region was exploited for collecting marine resources in the easily accessible shallow region. [1] 

When the Dutch took over and started using the island to raise livestock, namely cattle, goats, pigs, sheep, and horses. [2] [3] The harbor of Paardenbaai was used by large ships with throw anchors, with the region between Eagle Beach and Arashi Beach being used as an anchoring region as the maritime and underwater landscape was shallow with calm waters.

The harbor of Paardenbaai became more prominent when the Dutch West India Company went out of business as Aruba was forced to focus on its community and growing population, and how to sustain the individuals on the island. [4] However, the period between 1792 – 1816 brought forth a period of war to the island, where Paardenbaai harbor was the central point of the turbulence and attacks. [5] A small fortification consisting of four guns was built at Paardenbaai in 1798. This order was sent by the governor Lauffer in order to function as Aruba’s first real fortification. [5] [6] [7] The fortification was built after an attempt by the English to steal ships docked at Paardenbaai harbor. [5] However, this proved not to be enough to protect the island from attacks, and a ship containing ammunition was sent to Paardenbaai harbor in 1799 to build up the island’s defense. In that same year, the English, led by captain Edward Hamilton manning the frigate Hermoine, attacked the island in the same year.

The attack was fought off. [3] [7] Another attack followed in 1805 from the Dutch on Fort Zoutman, when it was under the control of the English. This attack lasted for two days and occurred on land and sea. The attack ended when the English surrendered but they soon returned and attacked again end of 1805. However, they were once again defeated. One last battle occurred in early 1806 when the English returned to Aruba with a larger army and pushed the inhabitants of Aruba to fled into the woods. However, the English did not settle on the island and soon left. [3] [7]

Aruba changed hands twice between the English and the Dutch between 1803 – 1816, and eventually falling under the permanent rule of the Dutch in 1816. However, the attacks and continuous changing of hands depleted the resources on the island, leading to the disappearance of all the goats, sheep and usable wood. [3] 

At the end of the 18th century, the Paardenbaai harbor was used as a warehouse, as free trade was permitted here in 1796. This in turn catapulted the mercantile industry on Aruba. [6] From 1795 onwards, merchants, traders, and craftsmen came to Paardenbaai harbor to trade their goods. This led to Paardenbaai harbor being chosen as the main trading centrum, in addition to the fact that it had better accessibility than the other harbor, namely Commandeursbaai situated at Savaneta. [8] Paardenbaai harbor became the capital of Aruba in 1824 when it got its name, Oranjestad. [3] 
Aruba began exporting horned cattle, sheep, poultry, brazilwood, aloe, and after 1824 gold, between the period 1820 – 1837. In exchange, the island received food, clothing, tools, etc. [8] 

In 1927, an oil refinery was built west of Oranjestad named N.V. Arend Petroleum Maatschappij. [9] A shell oil terminal pier and harbor were built in the region of Eagle Beach with its accompanying office and railroad for this oil refinery. Construction on the pier began in 1930, where the pier expanded to an L-shape, followed by more extensions later on. The shell oil terminal pier in turn functioned as an anchorage location from 1927 – 1953, when the refinery closed down. [10] 

Dredging began in the beginning of the 20th century at Paardenbaai harbor, namely in 1916, 1930, 1930, and 1947-1948, as up until 1948 the Paardenbaai was entered through the north side as the west side was too shallow. However, the harbor was not easily accessible making the ships conduct dangerous maneuvers. In 1930, a pier the length of 140 meters were built to be better accessible for larger ships. [11]


The Paardenbaai harbor has a usage history that spans from the precolonial period up until present day. It was used by the indigenous people as an exploitation region for marine resources and for navigation around the island. It then became an anchorage and trade location starting from the Dutch West India Company period onwards and it got its name Oranjestad in 1824 and became the capital of the island. [1] [3] [4] [6] [8]


The Paardenbaai was dredged four times throughout the 20th century to a depth of 11 meters. In addition, construction work on the coastline occurred in order to create four small piers, later one, one big pier was built and multiple expansion projects took place. [11] 

[1] Symister, C. M. A., Dijkhoff, R. A. C. F. (2022). Spaans Lagoen and Commandeursbaai. An archaeological field evaluation on Maritime Heritage of Aruba [Published report]. Symister Maritime Archaeological Research.
[2] Teenstra, M. (1836). De Nederlandsche West-Indische eilanden in derzelver tegenwoordigen toestand, Number 1, 1838. Colonial Collection (KIT) – Leiden University Netherlands. 
[3] Hartog, J. (1953). Aruba zoals het was, zoals het werd. De Wit.
[4] Klooster, O. van der, Bakker, M., Bakker, M. M., Leven, J. van ‘t (2007). Bouwen op de wind: architectuur en cultuur van Aruba. Stichting Libri Antilliani.
[5] Menkman, W. R. (1942). De Nederlanders in het Caraibisch Zeegebied. De Geschiedenis van de 
Nederlandse Antillen. Van Kampen en zoon.
[6] Bakker, M. M., Klooster, O. E. I. van der. (2008). Cultuurhistorische Verkenning van het Schelpstraatkwartier en het Koopliedenkwartier in Oranjestad. Overzeese architectuur Rapport, 2008.
[7] Bosch, G. B. (1985). Reizen in West-Indie; deel I en II (1829 – 1836). S. Emmerling. 
[8] Alofs, L., Merkies, L. (2001). Ken ta Arubiano? Sociale integratie en natievorming op Aruba, 1924-2001. VAD/De Wit Stores. 
[9] Ridderstaat, J. R. (2007). The Lago story: The compelling story of an oil company on the island of Aruba. Charuba.
[10] Dijkhoff, R. A. C. F. (2021). Onderwater Cultureel Erfgoed Sites Aruba. Werkdocument MANA in het kader van ratificeren door Koninkrijk der Nederlandsen van UNESCO Conventie 2001: Bescherming van Onderwater Cultureel Erfgoed, Aruba. Manuscript available at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, Oranjestad, Aruba. 
[11] Awe Mainta. (2021). Aniversario di un dia historico di Paardenbaai. Publication: Awe Mainta, 07-04-
2021, 1-45.

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