Some travel sources rate San José’s national theater the #1 attraction in Costa Rica’s gritty capital. It’s certainly a popular destination for visitors. One of the couples on our tour was from Armenia. If nothing else, this theater is far more than a beaux-arts entertainment venue with a season beginning in March. Lonely Planet‘s 2018 guide calls it the #1 sight in this capital city and says it is San José’s “most revered building”. This is true.
The Teatro Nacional offers tours on the hour, even on Monday. Full of marble, exotic wood, and gold-leaf, this august building is used for presidential inaugurations. Our tour guide Daniel showed us a video of Costa Rica’s new, youthful, and popular president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, raising the stage via a complicated 19th century mechanical system for the ceremony that made him president for at least 4 years. A tax on coffee led to the national theater’s construction, which took 7 years. There was a great deal of wealth in Costa Rica at that time. San José was the 3rd city in the world to have electricity. New York and Paris were first and second. Quesada won the presidential election in April, 2018.
There are several marble and plaster statues in the lobby. The one above is called “La Tragedia”, but the one below is considered to the best and has become a national icon. It shows a woman carrying a child while begging and reminded me of Michelangelo’s Pieta.
The theater’s interior is grandly ornate. Daniel showed us the outside of the presidential box, but we were not allowed inside. The best I could do was photograph the decoration over its door and take a hazy photo of it from an adjoining box. The grand lighting fixture in the main auditorium’s ceiling shown below contains 87 bulbs, and our host showed us a picture of it being lowered for cleaning. It is, of course, surrounded by muses; and the 1897 interior is lavishly decorated with original paintings that have also received national recognition. A European painting on the ceiling showing Costa Rica’s banana and coffee harvests was depicted on some currency no longer in use.
Costa Rica remains a world-class destination where Americans are so welcomed that many ATM’s dispense American dollars along with inflated colones. However, the Chinese, who have bought a lot of fruit and meat and built a new stadium for soccer-mad Costa Ricans, are growing in influence.