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Discover the Children’s Museum : From prison to museum

If there’s one paradoxical building in Costa Rica, it’s the famous Children’s Museum. What was once a dark prison filled with terror has become an arena of laughter and color. Its history is unique. Inaugurated in 1994, we wanted to tell you about its curious history.

Children’s Museum: chaotic beginnings until its closure

The Castle of Dreams is the name given to the building that once housed the old central penitentiary. And if you’re looking for sights in Costa Rica, the paradoxical building that is the famous Children’s Museum is an excellent option.

The famous “Peni”, as it was known as a penitentiary until 1994, when it became the only interactive museum in the country dedicated to children. Few know its history, however, and that’s why we wanted to remind you of it.

For 70 years, this was the headquarters of San José’s old central penitentiary. It was built in 1909.

In 1948, because of the civil war, many political prisoners ended up at “La Peni”. From 1950 onwards, the prison began a critical period of deterioration. The prison, designed for 350 people, housed over 1,000, and the hygienic and humane conditions in which the inmates lived were deplorable.

For the authorities, the situation was getting out of hand: promiscuity, drugs, filth, lack of water and poor infrastructural conditions meant that the building was described as a “national disgrace”, and the controversy generated by its dysfunction meant that on December 20, 1979, under the government of Rodrigo Carazo, the prison was closed.

musee-des-enfants-bouche-costa-rica-decouverteThe phoenix-like museum rises from the ashes

After closure, the prison was abandoned, and it was under the administration of Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, in 1994, that the first lady, Gloria Bejarano, promoted the project to turn it into a Children’s Museum.

On April 27, 1994, the museum’s opening ceremony took place, with exhibits dedicated to children and their families.

From dark corridors littered with cold cells that held pain, sadness and despair, the Children’s Museum has become a building that shares all the smiles and joys of those who visit it.

In general, all museums are governed by the “see but don’t touch” rule. However, this child-friendly museum is all about “learning while having fun”. The idea is that play is at once learning, creativity, spontaneity, freedom of expression, social interaction and curiosity.

For those in charge of the Children’s Museum, the main aim of the institution is to contribute to the formation of critical, dynamic, creative and participative human beings, by promoting the values and implementation of activities that complement formal education.


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