San José, Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica

San José, capital city of Costa Rica. The most populous city in San José Province, with a population of 344,747 in 2006, it is the governmental, educational, business, banking, and manufacturing center of the country.

San José was first settled during the second quarter of the eighteenth century, principally by immigrants from Cartago. It takes its name from Saint Joseph, the patron saint of the first parish established in the Asserí Valley. For some time the settlement was referred to as Villa Nueva to distinguish it from the earlier settlement at Villa Vieja (present-day Heredia).

The village grew more rapidly than Cartago for the rest of the colonial period and by the time of independence, San José challenged the colonial capital for hegemony in the sparsely populated new nation. San José had prospered in the second half of the eighteenth century as a commercial center from a significant amount of contraband trade as well as from legitimate tobacco production.

The final shift in power from Cartago to San José came in 1823 in a short, violent clash in which armed bands from the four centers of population in the central valley fought to determine whether Costa Rica would be part of Agustín Iturbide's Mexican empire (Cartago and Heredia's position) or would join the Central American Federation (San José and Alajuela's position). San José's victory marked the beginning of its ascension as the great city of Costa Rica. San José defeated a combined force from the other three cities in 1835 (The War of the League) to assure its position. Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century the city grew more rapidly than its rivals.

With the rapid modernization that has taken place since 1940, San José has grown prodigiously and has become ever more dominant in power and population. Its growth has been so dynamic that the distinctions among the four cities of the central valley have been blurred in functional terms as they begin to blend into one great central megapolis that embraces almost one-half of the nation's population (over one million inhabitants). San José is the unquestioned hub of politics, business, culture, education, transportation, and industry; San José province remains a major agricultural producer.

See alsoCartago; Costa Rica; Heredia.


Carolyn Hall, Costa Rica: A Geographical Interpretation in Historical Perspective (1985).

Carlos Monge Alfaro, "The Development of the Central Valley," in The Costa Rica Reader, edited by Marc Edelman And Joanne Kenen (1989), pp. 1-9.

Additional Bibliography

Paige, Jeffery M. Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Palmer, Steven Paul, and Iván Molina Jiménez. The Costa Rica Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

                                      John Patrick Bell

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San José, Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica