Fragments of Costa Rican history are stacked away neatly amid the metal shelves and towering boxes kept in locked, temperature-controlled rooms. At the Museo Nacional’s warehouse in Pavas some of the nation’s most important artifacts can be found tucked inside these storage rooms and restoration workshops.
In one room around 15,000 pre-Columbian artifacts are stashed in shelved boxes. In another, there are handwritten documents and maps that point back to Costa Rica’s Colonial era. Idly sitting in a garage is the Popemobile used for Pope John Paul II’s 1983 visit.
One of the most influential pieces within this cultural maze is the country’s first printing press. Gabriella Villalobos, a museum historian, said the Guttenberg-style device came from the United States in 1830, which was a late arrival compared to the other Central American countries.
Capable of printing 300 to 500 sheets per day, many in Costa Rica quickly became intrigued with this new technology they had heard about elsewhere.
According to Ms. Villalobos, the government was one of the printer’s biggest clients along with the Catholic school Casa de Enseñanza Santo Tómas, which later became Costa Rica’s first university, Universidad de Santo Tómas. Casa de Enseñanza graduate Rafael Francisco Osejo wrote the first book to be published in the country, called Breves lecciones de aritmética, or “Short Arithmetic lessons.”
Soon local newspapers grew from the groundbreaking machine, and on Jan. 4, 1833, the Noticioso Universal became the first Costa Rican paper when it came out with an eight-page issue.
This year the Museo Nacional staff has restored the press to include it in an upcoming exhibit for the museum’s history gallery.
Marlin Calvo, the director of the Departmento de Protección del Patrimonio, said the historically pivotal pieces stored in the warehouse, like the first printing press, have impacted the country
and its people. With a staff of 20 working at the bodega, Calvo said it is their duty to open up the public eye to these almost-hidden national treasures.
“Many people think they don’t have access to these important artifacts,” Ms. Calvo said. “We want to open that up to people. That’s our job and it’s very important to us.”
Out on the courtyard there are German canons from the 19th century being remodeled for exhibition and a dozen of the iconic stone spheres, receiving some makeovers of their own. A stone sphere that was recently shipped from a Florida homeowner’s yard is now kept at the warehouse.
Besides restoration, the warehouse also serves outside researchers and archaeologists, selects pieces for exhibition, and coordinates artifact shipments.
“We lead happy lives taking care of these artworks,” Ms. Calvo said.
Located behind a field off Vía 104 in Pavas, the building was an old soap factory that was turned into a Banco Anglo Costarricense and then became Banco Nacional. Museo Nacional bought the building seven years ago to have more storage room for the collections.