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Cartago Attractions and Things to See

Cartago, Costa Rica is about fifteen miles east of the capital of San Jose, rising 4700 feet above sea level at the base of the Irazu Volcano, with an excellent history and culture that is showcased by its people, architecture and cultural elements. The city has been blest with a magnificent La Negrita, a statue of a Black Madonna that had been discovered by a young girl in 1635, according to the legend, and this venerable statue and the rock that is included, bring many pilgrims to the city each year to visit the city's and the nation's main church, the huge Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles. Supposedly, the young girl found the statue, that is supposed to possess great healing powers, that bring the sick here in droves, hoping for a miracle and cure. When she found the statue, she brought it home a number of times, only to have it disappear from her home and reappear at the rock that it sat upon. This indigenous girl must have tried many times, although now, the rock and the statue are sitting in a back room of the church where it is revered as a object of inspiration and sacred artifact.

The basilica was constructed in 1639, but would be partly destroyed by an earthquake, and was then restored, with an eclectic mix of colonial architecture and 19th century Byzantine style. It was consecrated to the Virgin of Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, which is the statue that the young girl found. Further investigation shows that the girl would eventually bring the statue to the local priest, who locked it in a box, only to discover that the next morning it had returned to its rock. As the church had been constructed, it would be destroyed a number of times, so that it would be decided that the location of the church should be moved to the rock's former location, and the construction would be finished. Quite a few residents believe that the earthquakes had been signs that the Lady of Los Angeles wanted the basilica to be built at the location of the rock and statue.

Since the stone statue was darkened because of the rock color, she has been affectionately called La Negrita or Reina de Cartago or the Queen of Cartago and is kept in a golden shell in the back of the church. The celebration of Romeria brings about 1.5 million worshippers to the church each year that travel the fourteen miles or 22 kilometers to the basilica. Many of the believers choose the demonstrate their piety by actually crawling on their hands and knees the entire journey. After they arrive at the basilica, they wash themselves and drink water from the rock that the statue sat on. Scientists have been brought here to test the water, that has no filtration or chemicals added, yet it is safe to drink. This is a museum located adjacent to the basilica that exhibits the names of those people that had been killed in disasters or wars, with an entire wall lined with medals to commemorate those people that died in WWII.

At the Plaza Mayor the Santiago Apostol Parish ruins can be viewed, which is only five blocks from the church, and although they are of great beauty, they aren't ruins but just the foundation of an incomplete structure that had been severely damaged by the earthquake of 1910 that stopped further building. The government stepped in and made a 100 blocks of the city a historical center, so that the structures located there could be preserved for the future, as the whole world seems to be realizing the significance of these fabulous relics of old.  This old church also has a legend associated with it and would make an enjoyable story for visitors to discover.

The old police station opened in 2010 as the new City Museum after having enjoyed a two year restoration and about two blocks from the Plaza Mayor.  Other interesting venues include the Maria Auxiliadora Church, the main structure of the San Luis Gongaza High School where the first Central American Supreme Court was located; and the marvelous Central Market that is best visited on Thursdays and Saturdays.  The Parque National Volcan Irazu is a gorgeous area worth visiting with marvelous botanical gardens.  The city is quite well known for its exciting and excellent whitewater rafting opportunities, down the Pacuare and Rios Revntazon Rivers.  The nation's only archaeological site, the Nacional Monumento Guayabo can be also visited outside the city.