What sits on a breezy hill at Calle 4, Avenida 9, in San José, looking like a cheerfully painted medieval castle in red, white and yellow? It’s the Costa Rican Science and CultureCenter, better known as the Children’s Museum.
Erected on seven hectares of terrain, the learning and entertainment center comprises the National Gallery and the Youth Complex.
The National Auditorium, with its excellent acoustics and sophisticated sound system, is accessible through a separate entrance.
The museum is installed in the former Central Penitentiary, built in 1906. For more than 70 years, the impressive construction with its neo-Gothic facade and star-like floor plan served as one of the country’s most controversial prisons.
After the penitentiary’s closure in 1979, the building was abandoned for many years, but rose like a phoenix from the ashes thanks to the vision and initiative of former First Lady Gloria Bejarano de Calderón (1990-1994).
In 1990, Bejarano and her team of women started the nonprofit organization Ayúdenos para Ayudar (Help Us to Help), creating and managing the Costa Rican Science and Culture Center with the mission “to foster the cultural, human and social development of Costa Rican society … through art, culture and science,” as states the center’s Web site. After undergoing years of massive reconstruction and modernization, the complex became a mecca for children, art buffs and music, theater and science enthusiasts.
The Children’s Museum opened its doors on April 27, 1994, making history as the first interactive museum in Central America. Dubbed the “MagicCastle” by the nation’s children, the museum welcomes 200,000 visitors a year. “While wandering through more than 37 halls, the children learn about the universe, earth, human body and their own rights,” explains the museum’s director, biologist Cristina Briceño, 46. “They can conduct a digital orchestra, discover how to produce a newspaper, try the earthquake simulator, explore a banana processing plant and coffee house, and learn about Costa Rican history and its indigenous population.”
Briceño, who has headed the museum for all of its 13 years, describes her position as creative, interesting and highly rewarding. She stresses that she and her team are motivated to offer a space for education and entertainment for children, their families and schools.
“It is our greatest satisfaction to hear the children singing already upon arrival, to see their happiness and their smiling faces,” she says.
One of the museum’s latest attractions is the Youth Complex, opened in 1999, offering a cozy library and computer lab for students. The facility also boasts a picturesque cafeteria, children’s playground and a candy and toy shop. The center has 200 employees, of which 90 work exclusively as Spanish- and English-speaking guides.
From April 27-29, the Children’s Museum will celebrate its 13th anniversary. Festival attractions will include safari-style day tours and exciting night excursions through the museum, as well as a temporary zoo.
Hours are Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (admission ¢800/$1.50 for children 3-17, ¢1,000/$1.90 for adults); Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (¢800/ $1.50 for children, ¢1,100/$2.10 for adults).
For info, call 258-4929, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.museocr.com.