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Stories about San José

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In Costa Rica, "MAC" Means Art

Updated: Jul 1, 2018

The Costa Rican Museum of Art (or MAC) is housed in the is striking neo-colonial building that was once the main passenger terminal for San Jose's original international airport. The property that was the old airport is now the popular Sabana Park.

by Michael Miller

(January, 2015)

In Costa Rica, “MAC” Means Art.   It is surprising how many expats don’t realize that Costa Rica has an art museum.  Actually Costa Rica has a number of art museums, but the main one, the Museo de Arte Costarricense (or MAC) is definitely worth a visit.

The Museum is on the east end of the huge Sabana Park, about a mile west of Downtown San José.  The park was the original international airport for San José in the pre-jet era, and the wonderful neo-colonial building that was once the main passenger terminal has become the MAC.

A family in their Sunday best on the way to mass or to visit friends. This painting by Tomás Povedano, a native of Spain, became an art professor at the University of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a country that is proud of its heritage, and you can feel this as you visit the MAC.  The Museum has a collection of about 7,000 pieces (oil paintings, water colors, pencil sketches, statues and much more) but it only has room to exhibit a couple of hundred pieces at one time.

This means that you can visit the MAC over and over, and you will always see something new.  It also means that you can spend an hour or two and you can thoroughly enjoy the displayed pieces.  It is enough so that you will be impressed, but not so much that you will be overwhelmed.

Examples of what is called "The Muralist Movement," paintings that have a political or social message. These were done by Costa Rican artists.

Most of the works are from Costa Rican artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.  (This is the largest collection of Costa Rican art anywhere.)  There are also works from other artists, mostly Latin American.  The Museum provides explanations of many of the works both in Spanish and in English.

No matter what wonderful pieces of art are on display, the work that always gets the most reaction from visitors is The Golden Room (Salón Dorado).  It is easy to see why. It is simply stunning.

The Golden Room is on the second floor of the Museum, and was originally the Diplomat Lounge when the building was part of the international airport.  It contains a massive bas relief that covers the entirety of all four walls, from a 3-foot wainscoting to the ceiling.  This bas relief depicts the history of Costa Rica in images as you walk clockwise around the room.

A segment of the bas relief in the Golden Room. Here we see Columbus when he landed on the "Rich Coast."

The bas relief starts with images of pre-Columbian Indian villages, it continues by showing the arrival of Columbus, and early colonial scenes, and it moves through history to the early 20thcentury.  (The work was created in 1939-40.)

The bas relief in The Golden Room is the work of sculptor Louis Feron, a native of France who lived in Costa Rica for about ten years.  He carved the images in stucco, which he then coated with a layer of bronze.  It is truly remarkable and it is well worth the visit.

Scenes from the 20th century are depicted on the bas relief in the Golden Room.

The MAC is one of the great treasures of San José.  It is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Closed on Mondays.  And here is the best part:  It is absolutely free.  Bring your kids and grand-kids.  This has to be one of the best deals in Costa Rica.

San José is full of surprises. It is all part of the real San José.  (Thanks to David O, a subscriber to my website. David recommended that we cover this marvelous museum.)

Michael Miller is the author of the first and only guide book that focuses on Downtown San José, Costa Rica, titled The Real San José. Paperback copies are available for sale at selected retail outlets in San José.  An electronic version of The Real San José is available at Amazon/Kindle.  To access it, click here.

Your questions and comments are always welcomed. You can contact Michael directly by email: You can see additional stories that Michael has written about Downtown San José at his website:


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