San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Museum Opens 19th Century Homes

Never before open to the public, two homes that hug the northeast corner of the Bellavista Fortress – now the NationalMuseum – were unveiled on 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 NationalMuseum 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 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 wooden 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 former President 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. They also painted the walls the same color they were at one point in their history. In fact, small squares were left unpainted to show visitors the different shades of the walls over the years.

As many as 35 vintage photos of San José are hung throughout the homes, which form the backbone of the temporary “Puertas Adentro” exhibit. Many of these had been kept in storage for years.

Lidilia Arias stressed that decorating the homes with original pieces was a challenge, and families should consider what they might do with their antiques when they update their homes.

“Some objects with real value are lost because people don’t give them historical significance,” she said.

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 NationalMuseum: $6 for foreigners, $3 for foreign students, ¢1,000 for residents.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Telephone: 2257-1433


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