Museo Nacional de Costa Rica
Exhibitions arrow History arrow The Bellavista Headquarters : witness , actor and historic symbol
The Bellavista Headquarters : witness , actor and historic symbol

A Glance from the "Bellavista"

ImageBy the end of the XIX century, San Jose expanded to the eastside. Constructions such as the Train Station to the Atlantic, the Main Customs House, the Sion High School , and the National Park were raised in this sector. In nearby lands, towards the northeast, the first Costa Rican bourgeois neighborhood was built: Barrio Amón.

On the other side, the land where the National Museum is located now was a coffee plantation in the mid XIX century. From the highest peak of Cuesta de Moras, the plantation offered a panoramic view of all San Jose city. So, it was given the name “good view” or “beautiful view” ( bella vista , in Spanish).

In 1877, Mr. Mauro Fernandez, reformer of Costa Rican education system, purchased the property. His house, center of social gatherings and intense social activity, rose to the northeast of the current building.

Very little is left of don Mauro's house. To the north of the building, the silhouette of an arch to the entrance of the house and part of the wall can be seen, both of which were kept after the headquarters were built.

The Army in Costa Rica

The history of the Bellavista Headquarters can not be understood without first referring to the history of the army in Costa Rica , which became the protagonist of several acts of politic violence that ultimately prevented dictatorships or constant civil wars in the country.

After 1920, shortly after the construction of the Bellavista Headquarters had begun, dishonor consumed President Castro's line of government (first President of the Republic). Constant abuse on part of the Tinoco brothers and the defeat of the war against Panama were the cause of this situation. Their repression against the population was the police's responsibility and the national territory was indirectly defended by the United States.

The decision to abolish the army was a key factor to set the founding for a civilian system. On December 1 st , 1948, Jose Figueres Ferrer headed the symbolic event to abolish the army in the Bellavista Headquarters. The decision was made to give the building to the National Museum . However, the abolition of the army was actually effective until 1949, after the “Cardonazo, ” an attempt to coup d'etat against the Board of Government headed by Edgar Cardona, Minister of Security.

The abolition of the army was also founded on the concern of the Board of Government to raise an environment of trust and stability in the country and detach from its relationship with the Legion of the Caribbean, which was not appreciated by the United States.

Birth and Life of the Bellavista

The construction of the headquarters was started in 1917. It was associated to the strengthening of the military institution promoted by Federico Tinoco Granados, who was first, Minister of War and Navy of Alfredo Gonzalez Flores government, and later, after he overthrew Gonzalez Flores in 1917, became President of the Republic.

Much of the construction of the headquarters was speeded up under Tinoco's government. Most external and tower walls were raised. The east section, the bottom side of the south section and probably the north section were also built. Meanwhile, the northeast kept the structure of don Mauro's house.

In 1919, Tinoco himself was overthrown due to social discontent caused by military oppression, the difficult economic situation in the country and the disapproval of the regime by the United States Government.

The construction was stopped in 1923. Works were started again in 1928, when a large area of don Mauro's house was demolished and the west side and, possibly, also the south, were finished.

The Bellavista Headquarters, one of the most important buildings in San Jose , was a weapon warehouse and it was used to instruct recruits in militia, tactics, weapon handling, and discipline as well as moral principles.

While it was used by the army, the building had this distribution:

  • To the north: weapon warehouse for every day use
  • To the northeast: two houses where the first and second commandants lived
  • To the east: troop dormitories
  • To the south: in the lower section, the kitchen, the dungeons, bathrooms and restrooms; in the upper area: dorms to minor officials
  • To the southeast: target shooting range
  • To the west: main office with the command, the dorms to higher officials, and the tailor's shop

The central patio of the building was a cemented area for exercise. To the north, there was a garden and a laundry area. Under the building, there were tunnels that were sealed afterwards. The precise location of many of them is still unknown.

Before the building was actually delivered to the museum, the main towers were demolished. They dominated the city militarily.

When the Museum finally took possession of the building later on, in 1950, the areas were conditioned to be used as exhibition rooms. Inner walls were torn down. Floor and ceiling materials were changed and the building was endowed with a colonial aspect which currently remains.

If you would like to learn more about the Bellavista Headquarters, write to us:
historia@museocostarica.com

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