Tuesday we left the comfort of safe and cozy Escazú and ventured into downtown San José to check out the Museos del Banco Central. Patrick, Scott (our neighbors), Nick, and I hopped in a taxi and rode about 20 minutes North East into the valley.
The Museos del Banco Central, or Central Bank Museums, is “an institution that manages, preserves, conserves, researches and publishes collections of Anthropology, Visual Arts and Numismatic Central Bank of Costa Rica”. The museum is one building with one entry ticket but is essentially three museums; el Museo de Numismática, la Sala de Exhibiciones Temporales, y el Museo del Oro Precolombino.
The first floor housed el Museo de Numismática, the Numismatic Museum (forall you non-coin collectors, that would be a currency museum). In central America, as in many early countries, currency began as cacao beans, grains, and other goods. From about 1709 to the 18th century, cacao beans were officially used because ‘money’ was in such short supply. We also learned that at one point individuals with tuberculosis and leprosy were given their own altered form of currency to avoid contamination and further spread of the diseases (regular official currency would be punched as indication). We saw one of the five first coins in Costa Rica, a 23 caret gold coin the size of a dime. Nick especially loved this museum.
Each room has vault-like doors and a guard watching over the exhibits. They don’t carry visible weapons, but still have an intimidating presence in the room. The guard in the numismatic museum took us by surprise and often approached us, pointing out things we might have missed. At one point, he approached me and held out a little brown cacao bean; his smile made it obvious that it was for me, my own little cacao souvenir. Their kindness and nontraditional active role in the museum is something I loved and is a good indication of the kindness of the Tico people.
La Sala de Exhibiciones Temporales, the temporary exhibits, was mainly empty with one small room dedicated to the felinos en la arqueología de Costa Rica (cats in the archeology of Costa Rica). There are six main native felines in Costa Rica: the puma or mountain lion, jaguar, ocelot (manigordo), margay cat (caucel), Jaguarundi (León Breñero), and the tigrillo (oncilla). I really like this room – it was very informative and included artifacts from 700-1400 AD.
The basement exhibit was by far the most expensive of the three. This was the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, el Museo del Oro Precolombino, and housed a very expensive collection of gold artifacts unearthed in and around Costa Rica. Hammered gold discs, chest plates, bracelets, stylized creatures – all solid gold. Mainly found in and around burial sites and used for decoration, spiritual worship and healing. It was beautiful. The majority of the items were stylized frogs, lizards, and there were many hammered discs, each with a unique pattern ranging from simple to very ornate.
It was a bit smaller than the ticket price suggests, $11 each although I did receive a student discount (thanks, grandma, for suggesting I take my student ID!). We enjoyed ourselves and it was a good excuse to head into San José. I would not recommend making a special trip into town for the museum alone, although it is right next to the Teatro Nacional. More on that later. – Jes