San José (sän hōsāˈ) [key], city (1989 pop. 287,535), central Costa Rica, capital and largest city of Costa Rica. San José is the economic, political, and social center of Costa Rica, dominating the Central Valley and the nearby towns, Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia. During colonial times, the main industry of the region was tobacco raising; by the mid-19th cent., the city had become the center of a coffee-producing area. It is the national distribution point for imports. San José was founded (c.1738) at the beginning of the westward expansion from Cartago; with independence from Spain (1821), it became the center of the country's liberal element and, in 1823, the capital. A modern city, with parks and fine public buildings, including the elaborate National Theater, it has a mixture of Spanish and North American architecture, with many houses set back to have lawns and gardens fronting the street. San José is a stop for international airlines, the hub of the highway system, and the center of the Pacific and Caribbean railroads. It has several universities.
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