Teatro Nacional

Avenida 2, C. 5, Catedral, San José, Costa Rica

For three centuries, Costa Rica’s national theater has been an important cultural forum, and its beautiful structure is a designated national monument. Docent-led tours of the Renaissance-style building and its performance hall are highly recommended. If you’re making your way on your own, start from the architecturally eclectic entrance and its opulent neoclassical froufrou, then ascend the magnificent marble stairs to the mezzanine. Don’t miss the cedar- and mahogany-inlaid floor (much of the wood was sourced from Alajuela). Inside the auditorium, ceiling frescoes are arguably more impressive than even the profusely decorated balconies, awash in gilt. An in-house café serves brews from every corner of the republic. Hour-long matinees on Tuesdays, featuring top international artists, are a midday delight.

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A Neoclassical Masterpiece in San Jose's Cultural Center

The 1987 Teatro Nacional (National Theater) of Costa Rica stands glowing on a summer night, lending the Plaza de la Cultura (the town square) an aura of majesty. The sides of its neoclassical facade are adorned by statues of dramatist Calderon de la Barca and Beethoven. A plethora of theater and musical events are held inside. I had the pleasure of attending the Second International Festival of Percussion Ensembles.

Is This the Finest Building in San Jose, Costa Rica

We quickly learned that Teatro Nacional is a great source of pride for Josefinos—and Ticos as a whole. Built in 1897, the Baroque structure encapsulates a turn-of-the-century push for grandeur and respectability. And the entire country paid for it via a special coffee tax. Even if you don’t opt for a show—we passed on “The Nutcracker"—you can still tour its most-talked about features, from the vestibule carpeted in Carrara marble to the painting of coffee and banana harvests, which tell the story of Costa Rican wealth at that time (coffee exports were at a high).

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