When visiting Costa Rica’s capital, a must see is the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica, or the National Theater of Costa Rica, one of the country’s most revered public buildings. Construction began in 1891 and finished in 1897. It opened with a performance of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. The National Theater stood as a cultural asset of the country during a time when coffee exports were a source of its success. By means of an export tax on coffee, the necessary funds were obtained to begin work. It is known for its exquisite interior, including lavish furnishings. Seraphs and cupids hang from the lamps while flowers and dragons cover the wall with gold.
Stage of the National Theater
Interior paintings at the National Theater
The theater features a columned neoclassical façade that is flanked by statues of Beethoven and Calderón de la Barca, a 17th-century Spanish dramatist. It houses a lavish marble lobby and the auditorium is lined with paintings depicting various facets of 19th-century life. Perhaps the most famous is a canvas showing coffee and banana harvests – called Alegoría al café y el banana or Allegory to Coffee and Bananas. This painting was produced in Italy by Milanese artist Aleardo Villa and shipped to Costa Rica for installation in the theater. The image was reproduced on the old five colón bill, which is now out of circulation. If you know anything about banana trees, you will notice right away that the painter himself was not familiar with how to hold bananas. The man in the center of the painting is awkwardly grasping a bunch of bananas while in reality banana workers hoist the stems onto their shoulders.
Fresco of banana and coffee workers
Banana worker incorrectly depicted
The theater has several performances a week and is also a tourist attraction. Performances by the National Symphonic Orchestra take place as part of the orchestra’s regular season.
Statue at the National Theater
Statue at the National Theater with tropical flowers!
Paintings on the interior of the theater
Guided tours of this jewel of a theater, in either Spanish or English, cost around seven U.S. dollars.