San José, Costa Rica

Reference work entry


In the province of the same name, San José is the capital of Costa Rica. Situated in the centre of the country on a high fertile plain, the city is at 1,160 m above sea level.


San José was founded in the early eighteenth century as a small village called Villa Nueva de la Boca del Monte del Valle de Abra. The capital of Costa Rica was the nearby city of Cartago, established in 1563. After independence in 1821, Costa Rica had four self-governed cities, Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago and San José. A move towards a centralized government led to friction––San José and Alajuela being more progressive than Cartago and Heredia. The resulting civil war in 1833 was fought on the Ochomogo Hills. With the San José troops victorious, the new capital became the centre of the coffee trade, the country’s main industry in the nineteenth century.

San José expanded throughout the twentieth century. The city centre was developed on a grid pattern with numbered calles from north to south and numbered avenidos from east to west.

Modern City

The economic, industrial and cultural heart of Costa Rica, San José is the centre of the nation’s coffee production. Industries include coffee and cocoa processing and textile production. A third of the Costa Rican population are resident in the San José province. The city is also home to numerous academic institutions including the Universidad de Costa Rica, established in 1940. The Juan Santa International Airport is at 15 km northwest of the city. San José’s architecture is a mixture of Spanish colonial and modern North American. High industry and traffic congestion cause pollution.

Places of Interest

The style of the Teatro Nacional is based on the Paris Opéra. In the late nineteenth century a touring opera company refused to play in San José from lack of an appropriate venue. Thereafter, coffee barons and merchants financed the construction of the Teatro. Begun in 1890, it was inaugurated in 1897. It has sculptures created by the Italian artist Pietro Bulgarelli, overhead painted reliefs, a Renaissance façade and a grand staircase in the fashion of the Opéra. The Museo Nacional focusses on archaeology, pre-colonial art and Costa Rican history. The Museo de Jade houses jade figures created by the Chorotegas people who inhabited the Nicoya region from the fourteenth century. The Museo de Arte Costarricense displays works of Costa Rican artists from 1950. Several parks are found in San José, including the Parque de España and the Parque Nacional, the latter set in rain forest.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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