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In March of 1993 Costa Rica's National Theater reopened its doors to once again host the most fabulous cultural events in the country. After withstanding the ravages of time and the elements for nearly a century to provide Costa Ricans with a cultural showcase, it succumbed to the violent earthquake that struck Costa Rica on April 22, 1991.

by Michael L. Smith

In the late 1800s Costa Rica was growing rapidly thanks to the world's demand for coffee. Society was maturing and a source of cultural activity was conspicuously missing. In 1890, the country's prosperous coffee growers volunteered to finance the construction of a theater by means of a self-imposed tax on each bag of exported coffee.

Three years later, this tax was abolished. It was argued that the tax burdened only one contributor and affected the country's coffee exports. During those three years the treasury had collected five percent of the estimated three million colones needed for construction. To collect the remaining 95% another tax was established in 1893 that would be paid by the general citizenry--a one cent dockage fee on every kilogram of imported goods. The intention was that the importers pay the tax, but it was eventually passed on to the consumers.

This "forced" taxation became a source of national pride through the years since the magnificent landmark was completed with the aid of all Costa Ricans--teachers, merchants, students, housewives, artisans and workers, including the coffee growers. Therefore, from the time that President Rafael Iglesias attended the inaugural performance, Costa Ricans have considered themselves an active part of this premier national symbol.

The building, declared a national monument in 1965, was designed by Belgian architects who also supervised its construction. Painters and decorators were brought from France and Italy. The steel structures of the building and the ornamentation, including Italian marble, were also imported from Europe.

Since its inauguration on October 21, 1897 with the performance of the opera Fausto by the French opera company Aubrey, this landmark has been host to the principal spectacles presented in Costa Rica and has become the ultimate cultural symbol, and an artistic tradition, of the country.

After the devastating earthquake of 1991, it was feared that this pride of Costa Ricans may have to be demolished but the citizens rallied and again came through to save this wonderful landmark. Through contributions collected from the populace in nationwide campaigns, as well as donations from national and international companies, the National Theater has been repaired and rebuilt to its original splendor, ready to serve proudly for another century as the great cultural coliseum of the Costa Ricans.

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Updated on April 13, 1996 by M.L. Smith