San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

National Museum opens 19th century homes

Never before open to the public, two homes that hug the northeast corner of Costa Rica´s Bellavista Fortress – now the National Museum – were unveiled Monday as part of a permanent exhibit of the museum.

Constructed at the end of the 19th century, the houses were the residences of the first- and second-in-command of the fortress until the army was disbanded in 1948. They then became the headquarters of the National Meteorological Service until the 1970s. After that, they housed the Museum´s Department of Anthropology and History until 2007.

“The restoration of these buildings is a service to the historical memory of our people,” said President Oscar Arias during a visit to the museum on Monday. “If the National Museum reminds us of what Costa Rica was like in war, these commanders´ homes speak to us of what an armed Costa Rica was like, and what every day was like in a country with a permanent military body.”

Relatively small by modern standards, the two homes abut each other at the top of Cuesta de Moras, as Avenida 1 is known as it climbs the hill ( cuesta ) toward the museum. An elaborate entrance leads into the first commander´s home, which is paved with geometric hand-painted tile and topped with high ceilings.

Though none of the furniture is original to the houses, it was selected to represent the time period when the buildings served as residences. The bedroom set of León Cortés, who served as president of Costa Rica from 1936 to 1940, adorns one of the rooms. Another room is furnished with pieces from the museum´s collection to resemble a study.

“We adapted what we had in our collections to fit the area and the time periods,” said Lidilia Arias, who designed the exhibit. “This was not exactly what the homes looked like while people lived here.”

The architects did keep the double-lead doors and guillotine style windows and painted the walls the same color as they were at one point in their history. In fact, the curator left small squares open to show visitors the different shades of the walls over the years.

The renovation project, which began in January, expanded the museum´s exhibition space by 700 square meters and cost $480,000.

The entrance fee to see the homes is included in the price of the ticket for the National Museum: $6 for foreigners, $3 for foreign students and ¢1,000 for residents.

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Telephone: 2257-1433.

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