Best wishes are in order for the city of San José, founded on May 21, 1737, 280 years ago. This is the date when construction on a modest chapel started on the orders of the head priest in Cartago, which was then Costa Rica’s capital.
The site was known as Boca del Monte, “Mouth of the Mountain,” and the chapel was built at roughly what is today Avenida Central and Calle Central. The chapel was dedicated to St. Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, hence the modern name.
Things were great back then — believe it or not, there was almost no traffic. By 1751, a local bishop recorded that there were already 11 houses near the chapel made of sun-dried mud and 15 made of straw, but there were no plazas or even streets.
After independence from Spain, a civil war broke out in 1823 between imperialists in Cartago and Heredia who wanted to join the First Mexican Empire and republicans in San José and Alajuela who wanted total independence. The latter won, and San José became the new capital of Costa Rica.
San José added another feather to its cap in 1884, when it became the first city in Central America with electric streetlights. And as it grew in wealth with exports of coffee, it distinguished itself further in 1897 by building the neo-baroque National Theater, which one visitor described as “a jewel in a mudhole.”
With this issue, in a salute to all things Chepe, the Howler inaugurates a new feature with historical photographs from all over Costa Rica. It’s a rich history that we’re proud to celebrate.