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Pre-columbian Gold Museum Álvaro Vargas Echeverría

Central Valley, Costa Rica

Brief History of the Institution

Costa Rica's Central Bank, concerned for our cultural and archeological patrimony, assembled the collection of pre-Columbian gold between 1950 and 1974. Simultaneously, it began a collection of numismatics and acquired national art works. Initially, a public gallery was created in the Bank, but when the collections grew, the decision was made to build a museum designed exclusively to house these collections related to the history of Costa Rica.

Between 1978 and 1982, the permanent home of the Costa Rica's Central Bank collections was completed in the subterranean building under the Plaza de la Cultura, thus providing a new cultural center in San Jose. The investment made in this structure is only comparable to that made in the construction of the National Theatre, nearly a century earlier, another highlight in the history of architecture in Costa Rica.

As of 1983, the Museums began to house a great number of temporary exhibitions. On September 15th, 1985, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum Álvaro Vargas Echeverría was re-inaugurated on this site, and in 1990, to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Central Bank, the Numismatic Museum opened its doors under the name of Jaime Solera Bennett.

On November 10th, 1993, under Law No. 7363, and for the purpose of enabling more efficient cultural work, the Foundation for the Administration of the Central Bank Museums was created. Since then, a qualified group of interdisciplinary professionals has put great effort into offering the visiting public new and varied exhibitions. Research, technical publications, school programs, workshops and concerts for the public are part of this Cultural Center's public programming, which continues to strive for excellence through education.

On September 14th, 2002, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum was re-inaugurated with a new exhibition design. In turn, the Numismatic Museum was re-inaugurated, after a complete remodeling, on November 1st, 2005 , with the exhibition entitled "From the 'Real' to the 'Colón' : A History of Costa Rican Currency."  

Structural Details of the Building

The building, a landmark in Costa Rican architecture, is the country’s only underground construction, designed specifically to accommodate a museum.  Shaped like an inverted pyramid, it has three architectural levels that reach a depth of 12 meters below street level.

The Plaza is a 45 x 80 square-meter open area with a fountain, green areas and several levels. In the Plaza de la Cultura people are the protagonists, infusing the space with meaning whenever they use and share it. The space has acquired vital significance with its powerful symbolic values that endow the heart of the city with character.

The construction materials for this building include concrete for the walls, Costa Rican marble for the floors, and rain tree (cenízaro) for the handrails (the rain tree is a precious Costa Rican wood currently considered an endangered species). In addition, the exhibition gallery floors are made of small pieces of sura or tall guava, another semiprecious Costa Rican wood.

The Central Bank Museums building was designed by Costa Rican architects Jorge Bertheau, Jorge Borbón and Edgar Vargas.

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