The National Museum saw the light by the end of the XIX century, encouraged by the liberal project of “order and progress” that reorganized national culture by means of changes in education and the development of institutions with cultural and scientific purposes, such as, precisely, the National Museum.

On May 4, 1887, with Mr. Bernardo Soto as President of the Republic, the National Museum was created with the intention to provide the country with a public establishment to deposit, classify, and study natural and artistic products.

Since the very first years, the Museum focused on scientific investigation, education, exhibition, and defense of the cultural and natural heritage. Figures such as Anastasio Alfaro, Enrique Pittier, Pablo Biolley, Jose Castulo Zeledon, Adolfo Tonduz, Maria Fernandez de Tinoco, and Jose Fidel Tristan were crucial in the beginnings of the institution.

With over one hundred years of existence, it has dwelled in four different buildings. The first three of them are already demolished.

  • From 1887 to 1896 it was settled in the building of the Universidad de Santo Tomas.
  • From 1896 to 1903 it took the gardens of the Labrynth to the south of San Jose.
  • From 1903 to 1949 it used the former building of the Liceo de Costa Rica, currently housing the Caja
  • Costarricense del Seguro Social (National social security institution).
  • Since 1950 until today, the National Museum ‘s home are the facilities of the former Bellavista
  • Headquarters.



On your visit by the Pre-Columbian Room, you will discover the lifestyle of ancient cultures starting 12,000 years B.C. up to the arrival of the Spaniards, 1,500 years A.D

A series of economic, social, political, and religious changes that occurred in the societies that inhabited our national territory determined the following historic periods which are displayed in the exhibition:

  1. Lifestyle of Hunters – Collectors (12,000 B.C. – 2,000 B.C.)
  2. Lifestyle of the Egalitarian Villager (2,000 B.C. – 500 B.C.)
  3. Lifestyle of the Cacique-ruled Villager (500 B.C. – 1,550 A.D.)

Ceramic, stone, jade, and bone objects will show you how creatively the ancient inhabitants of these lands took advantage of all resources available in nature to satisfy their own physical and religious needs.

You will also find arrow points, bowls, metates, burials, necklaces, pendants, earrings, and some other objects used for personal ornament and in rituals.

PRE-COLUMBIAN GOLDThis exhibition enhances our indigenous people’s view on gold.  Its goal is to make people aware of the fact that, opposed to the current idea that gold is a valuable material due to its price (which has encouraged most tomb-looting), to them, gold had a spiritual value instead of a materialistic one.

This Room tour displays animal representations such as frogs, alligators, and birds.  Other objects were used for body decoration and rank distinction, so is the case of medallions called patenas (large golden discs hanging on the chest), necklaces, nose plugs, ear plugs, bracelets, and bells.  You will also see miniature figurines of shamans.
This room features a synthesis of the development Costa Rica has undergone throughout history since the arrival of the Spaniards until today.

In this area, you will get to know the time periods that have framed the building of our nation in its cultural diversity:  the Colony, the changes resulting from Independence, the coffee and banana plantations, the railroad and their contributions to society and economy, among other issues.

The exhibition displays photographs, drawings and representative objects from each time.  The latter were used in everyday life or remind of important political events.  Some of them are even symbols of ideals and traditions.  Others are samples of artistic creativity that captured time in wood and canvas.
COLONIAL HOMEThis room is a recreation of the typical atmosphere in a colonial home.  The walls, roof, floors, windows, and doors are original from the time and belonged to a house located in the province of Guanacaste.  It was dissembled and brought right into the museum for the purpose of this exhibition.

The dining room and bedroom reflect the distinguishing austerity of colonial houses in Costa Rica, with few pieces of furniture and accessories.

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