Bellavista Fort in San Jose Costa Rica.

The Bellavista Fortress

When Costa Rica Became Unique at the Bellavista Fortress

Old bullet marks on a turret.
Bullet riddled fort turret.

A city tour of San Jose must include a description of what happened at the Bellavista Fortress in 1948. This place is rich with history and the stage for an event that changed the country forever.

This iconic building, with visible bullet marks on its remaining turrets, is a historic city landmark very dear to the Costa Rican people. It was here where Jose “Pepe” Figueres Ferrer abolished the army after leading the last of many coups in Costa Rica’s war-prone past. This was a paradigm shift, a turning point for this country’s history. Consider it a social experiment that demonstrated how this little nation could do without an army.

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Pepe Figueres with a sledgehammer.
Pepe abolishing the army in a suit and tie in 1948.

Deeply engraved in Costa Rica’s collective memory is the image of Pepe Figueres, as a civilian, taking a sledgehammer into the air and slamming it down on one of the Bellavista Fortress’ merlons. Pepe Figueres ripped it to shreds with one swift swing, launching a barrage of bricks into the air as an onlooking soldier tightened his shoulders under his helmet. You can’t make this up. The hammering actions were a symbolic gesture for Pepe. It was his way of getting rid of the army.

Democracy Plaza and the Bellavista Fortress.
Once the Bellavista barracks, today it’s the National Museum.

The abolishment of Costa Rica’s army by Pepe Figueres in 1948 led Ryoichi Sasakawa to once say, “How fortunate is the Costa Rican mother who gives birth knowing that her child will never grow up to become a soldier.” That is the legacy of this great Costa Rican man.

Today, the Bellavista Fortress is the home of the National Museum that towers over Democracy Plaza. Those were Pepe’s direct orders. He wanted a country of teachers with books instead of a country of soldiers with guns.

Costa Rica will be forever grateful to don Pepe Figueres. Through his legacy, Costa Rica has been living in peace and democracy ever since he made history in 1948. It was don Pepe and his courage that made our country unique in the world today.

10 Thousand Colones note honoring Pepe Figueres.
Pepe Figueres on the 10000 Colones bill.

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