Costa Rica has seven provinces and San José is the seat of the nation's capital and the most populated one. However, this important Costa Rican city wasn’t always the main in the country. After the Spanish colonization, Cartago became the capital of Costa Rica. The city of Cartago was founded by Juan Vásquez de Coronado in 1564. In the early years of the Costa Rica’s central valley's colonization (1560's), families began spreading west from the village of Cartago, and one of the first places settled was the valley of Aserrí, located south of what is now the city of San José.
Some 170 years later, in 1736, the authorities ordered the inhabitants of the valley of Aserrí to move to a site known as Boca del Monte and to this end erected a church dedicated to San José (Saint Joseph), the region’s patron saint. The parish became known as San José de la Boca del Monte en el Valle de Aserrí.
By 1824, the population of San José had grown to more than 15,000 and a year earlier the city had become the capital of the newly independent country. Then San Jose became the nation’s capitol city. Coffee and tobacco were already bringing prosperity, culture, and refinement to the once-humble village. San Jose developed a moderate middle class hungry to invest its new found wealth for the social good. This city was the third one in the world to install electric lighting for the public. Well ahead of other cities throughout Europe and North America, San José installed public telephones as well.
By the turn of the century, plazas and splendid buildings, lined with trees catered to the flourishing movement-libraries, museums, the national theater (Teatro Nacional), and grand neoclassical mansions and middle-class homes honored the city. Aided by the coffee income and influenced by the Paris and Crystal Palace expositions, architects were erecting great monuments and schools built of imported prefabricated metals.
As recently as the 1940's San José still had only 70,000 residents, a mere tenth of Costa Rica’s population. After World War II, the capital city began grow without constraint, invading neighboring villages such as Guadalupe and Tibas. Unfortunately, a great deal of the city's finest buildings were destroyed by the demolition crane in post war years, only to be replaced by monstrous examples of modern architecture. This incredible growth continues as the city continues to grow even bigger, until the suburban districts have begun to merge into the larger complex. Surrounding hills twinkle at night, with the lights of suburban villages that are slowly becoming part of the city's fold.