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San José

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Since the beginning of the 20th century, the city has grown steadily, and today its million inhabitants (suburbs included) constitute almost a third of the country's population. San José is still a constantly expanding city - the largest in the country - and has the energy and restlessness that goes along with it.

San José only became the nation's capital in the 19th century, when it supplanted the older and more historic city of Cartago following a short lived civil war that led to the country's independence.

It seems appropriate that San José, the nation's capital, should lie in the middle of everything. Its urban sprawl is the point of convergence in the Central Valley, as it is centrally located amid the region's other major cities. This region, in turn, lies in the heart of the country as a whole. Furthermore, San José plays an integral role in the country's economy, transportation system and cultural life, all of which are centred around it.

If you look north down Calle 4 from Avenida 5, there is a beautiful view of San José's former prison, which now houses the new Costa Rican museum and cultural centre: the Centro Costarricense de la Ciencia y la Cultura. With its crenellated walls and towers flanking the entrance, this veritable fortress is a lovely scene at night, when the whole building is illuminated. The centre's brand-new children's museum, the Museo de los Niños, is unique in Central America, and is even worth the trip for adults. Its many vivid thematic hands on exhibits that cover many different fields of knowledge make it a real learning experience! The centre also boasts exhibition halls.

The Museo del Jade has a lovely collection of artifacts made from the magnificent green stone, and also provides a beautiful view over the city.

Plaza de la Cultura can be considered the most central of San José's downtown squares, if such a thing is possible! It is always bustling with young people, students, lovers and businesspeople - in short, of everyone! Numerous shops line the lovely terraced space. The Gran Hotel Costa Rica's café and the Teatro Nacional's Café Ruiseñor and the Avenida Central pedestrian zone also border the square, so it is really not surprising that it is such a popular place to hang out at any time of day!

Below the Plaza de la Cultura are a whole series of museums run by the Fundación Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica. The Museo del Oro Precolombino houses a dazzling collection of precious gold objects from the pre Colombian era to the time of Spanish Conquest.

The architecture of the Teatro Nacional is similar to that of the Paris Opera house. The national theatre was built when prima donna Andelina Patti refused to perform in Costa Rica, for want of an appropriate venue. It was inaugurated in 1897, and is now the headquarters of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional y Juvenil (National Symphony and Youth Orchestra). The building was classified as an historic monument in 1965, and it has undergone renovation and restoration work over the last few years to mark its centenary.

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