Caribbean island St. Eustatius is also popularly known as Statia. The little St. Eustatius is one of the northern Netherlands Antilles, situated in the east of the Caribbean. Formerly a safe harbour for pirates, nowadays it is treasure island to tourists.
Christopher Columbus already spotted St. Eustatius in 1493. Yet it took two more centuries for Europeans to colonise the island. In the 17th century the Dutch took St. Eustatius to boost their power base in the Caribbean, of which Curaçao was the centre. Since then, the island was fought over many times. The Dutch, French, British and Spanish were subsequent owners of Statia, with the inhabitants changing nationality 22 times in total!
Its importance lay in the fact that it was used as transhipment haven for the New World. Over 200 shipwrecks before the coast demonstrate the heavy passing through (and the battle history), with around 3,000 ships visiting the 30 km² small isle.
In the 17th and 18th century St. Eustatius was among the three richest Caribbean centres for commerce, slave trade and contraband. The warehouses were packed with yard goods, gold, silver, spices, sugar, rum and weapons that were transported between Europe and the America’s. St. Eustatius functioned as an important supply port for the American settlers during the American War of Independence.
As a matter of fact, the Dutch government of St. Eustatius was the first nation to recognise the United States of America, on November 16, 1776. Five years later the islanders had to pay for that when the British Royal Navy arrived and deceived them by carrying a Dutch flag. Unguarded trade ships were misled and plundered.
Nowadays, the shipwrecks form one of the main tourist attractions. Lots of vessels have sunk in an area that now is a Nature Reserve to protect the animals, plants and historic artefacts in the sea. There are 33 unspoiled locations were one can dive for coral, and old and new shipwrecks. The care for the environment is shown in the circumstance that divers always have to be accompanied by licensed instructors. Moreover, it is forbidden for ships to release an anchor.
Eco-tourists and hikers can use one of the twelve trails on the tiny island. One of the routes leads up to the extinct volcano Quill, and subsequently downwards into the crater’s rain forest. Twice a year, sea turtles crawl up onto the black volcanic sands to lay their eggs, with colossal land crabs hunting on the beaches every night.
The capital Oranjestad (Orange City, named after the Royal House of Orange of the Netherlands) is actually a little village. St. Eustatius has a total population of 2,600 citizens. The remains of the East Caribbean trade centre are worth a visit, as well as the only remaining fortress. There used to be 19 of these, protecting the hugely rich city. Fort Orange was built in 1629 by the French, enlarged and named by the Dutch in 1636. Furthermore the island includes the prize-winning St. Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum, an aged Dutch Reformed church and the ruins of the second oldest synagogue of the America’s.
The annual mean temperature is 27°C (80°F), varying by no more than two degrees Celsius throughout the year.
As part of the Netherlands Antilles, St. Eustatius belongs to the Netherlands. The internal affairs of the Netherlands Antilles are administered by the central government, based in Willemstad, Curaçao, which is responsible to the Staten, or legislative assembly. The Netherlands Antilles comprise Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba.
Dutch is the official language. Papiamento however is the commonly used tongue, while English and Spanish are also widely spoken.