Costa Rica's Heavy Metal School

This school doesn't teach Metallica, but it is "metálica"

Escuela Metálica
Robert Schrader

Costa Rica is probably not the first country you imagine when you hear the phrase "heavy metal," even if the country did recently host a high-profile Iron Maiden concert. Well, and there's the fact that Costa Rica has some of the strictest environmental laws on the planet, and has since long before the "green" movement was mainstream—I suppose that's pretty metal in its own right. Then, there's sloths. I mean, how much more metal can you get?

To be sure, there's one structure is Costa Rica that quite literally embodies heavy metal: San José's Metallic School (officially Escuela Buenaventura Corrales). Even cooler? When its unofficial name is translated into Spanish, it becomes "Escuela Metálica," which is just one letter (and, if you want to get technical, one accent mark) off from Metallica—it doesn't get more "heavy metal" than that!

History of Escuela Metálica

Construction of San José's Escuela Metálica dates back to the early 1890s, when metal pieces that had been fabricated in Belgium and France were shipped across the sea to Costa Rica. In 1896, the building first opened its door as Escuela Graduadas de San José, a primary school for girls and boys.

Over time, the building has had many names. In 1917, for example, it adopted its now-official name (Escuela Buenaventura Corrales). It's also served different purposes. In 1960, the American School of San José moved into the building. More than two decades later, in 1984, a Montessori school also moved into the building and in the same year, it was designated as a Costa Rican national architectural and historic relic, a status that would help the school out during a campaign later down the line, which threatened its very existence.

What's Going on at Escuela Metálica Today?

As was the case more than 100 years ago, Costa Rica's metal school is still a primary school. Additionally, the building hosts an extensive library. The entire building underwent a renovation, which was completed in 2004, and saw it repainted from its original yellow into a purple hue that matches the Jacaranda tree that blooms in front of it during March every year.

During early 2008, it seemed like Costa Rica's metal school was in danger of closing for good, however the Minister of Culture reversed the decision, which was a recommendation the Public Education Minister had originally passed down in a seeming bit of irony.

More importantly, however—well, at least if you don't live in Costa Rica, in which case the education of your country's children is obviously the most important thing—Escuela Metálica has in recent years emerged as a popular tourist destination.

How to Visit Escuela Metálica

Part of Escuela Metálica's appeal as a tourist destination is, well, because it's a school made of metal. And it's purple, which again is particularly striking (as you see, in the photo attached to this article) when the adjacent Jacaranda tree is in full bloom. 

Another part of why so many people visit Escuela Metálica is because of its sheer convenience. It's located in Parque Morazan, in downtown San José, just a couple blocks from the National Theatre of Costa Rica, the city's—and country's—unofficial landmark, which means that you can add a visit to Costa Rica's metal school into a day of sightseeing in the country's capital with relative ease and quickness. The school also sits near the entrance gate to San José's quirky Chinatown.

Unfortunately, since the school is still in operation, going inside the building can be difficult; the building is locked outside of school hours, so it's hard then, too. The best way to enjoy the building is to admire its façade from under the shade of the Jacaranda tree.

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