San Jose is Costa Rica’s capital but the city is not really high up on the list of tourist attractions in most cases. Tourist books usually only mention a few key places to visit here and travelers prefer to spend their time elsewhere.
The National Theatre or Teatro Nacional in Spanish however is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the capital. This historically and culturally rich building is one of the few left in San Jose.
Costa Rica’s National Theatre is located on the southern side of Plaza de la Cultura. The prestigious structure is one of San Jose’s most famous buildings and after seven years of construction was inaugurated in 1897. The local people simply needed a place to enjoy private performers and started building it but the president at the time later decided that they needed a National Theatre. The president decided that the people would be the ones to pay for the theatre through taxation. Maybe it is for this reason that the locals have such a strong affection for it. Design and construction of the project was carried out by the Department of Public Works, who even included structural integrity in case of future earthquakes.
The theatre’s renaissance design and lavish furniture make you feel like are transported back to 1897, when it first opened its doors. The marble lobby and auditorium are filled with paintings about life in the 19th century. Much of the marble was brought to Costa Rica from Italy. 22.5 carat gold was also used in the overlay along with bronze trim. Upstairs, the wood floor includes an intricate design worthy of a king. Chandeliers decorate the ceiling and give the theatre an even more luxurious and royal feeling. Most performances do not require a dress code so t-shirts and tennis shoes are acceptable. Costa Ricans however seem to dress up more and might seem a little more formal at the events.
These days, the spectacular acoustics and intimate setting draw performers and spectators from all around the world. Use of the theatre is usually fairly limited and the government screens all performers before they are allowed to sit on the stage. The Culture Ministry has allowed talented local people play in the theatre and many of the theatre productions and Costa Rican artists conduct concerts often. One incentive for middle class Costa Ricans to visit have been an activity from 12-1 every Wednesday. People working in San Jose are encouraged to attend and the program has been a huge success. An on-site café also allows visitors, local and foreign, to enjoy the sights and a cup of local coffee.
Even if there are no events on the day that you visit the National Theatre, you are always welcome to step in and explore. The self guided tour takes tourists through the building’s neo-classical architecture. Whether you have an extra day in San Jose or are planning to visit the city’s best attractions, make sure to visit the National Theatre. This icon of Costa Rica’s history and culture is something that no tourist should miss. The photo opportunities are amazing there!