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Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas – April 11, 2024

The Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas is observed on April 11 every year. This day, also known as Juan Santamaria Day, honors this pivotal fight for Costa Rica, as well as the 19-year-old, barefooted hero who fought bravely against Nicaragua’s filibuster army and gave his life. The Battle of Rivas occurred on April 11, 1856, in the Nicaraguan city of Rivas. In Costa Rica, the fight is most known for Juan Santamaria’s destruction of the opposing army’s citadel. It is regarded as the most significant in a series of wars, with profound importance to Costa Rica’s national identity.

History of Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas

In 1856, an American mercenary called William Walker set himself up as president of Nicaragua after conducting a sham election. He also planned to make more military conquests in Central America, a plan that spooked many of Nicaragua’s neighbors. Backed by an alliance of Central American states, Costa Rica’s president, Juan Rafael Mora, declared war on Walker on March 1, 1857. In a famous speech, Mora said, “Countrymen, take your weapons, the time that I’ve been warning you has arrived.” 

Led by the inexperienced Colonel Louis Schlessinger, Walker’s army advanced over the border of Nicaragua into Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Under the command of Mora’s brother, Jose Joaquin Mora, and his brother-in-law, General Cañas, Costa Rica’s army advanced in the same direction. On March 20, 1857, the Costa Ricans attacked and defeated Walker’s forces. The latter fled to the North, believing Mora’s army was there. This allowed the Costa Ricans to gain access to the city of Rivas. When the Nicaraguan forces returned a few days later, they gained some victories and even stationed themselves in the towers of the Rivas church to get a wide firing range. 

On April 11, General Cañas hatched a plan to set an influential Nicaraguan stronghold on fire. After several unsuccessful attempts by other soldiers, a young soldier called Juan Santamaria volunteered to try. He was just 19 years old, and his only request was that his mother is taken care of in the event of his passing. Santamaria was killed by the enemy, who had succeeded in lighting the structure on fire. However, Walker’s force eventually withdrew because of his bravery, significantly contributing to Costa Rica’s triumph. As a result, Juan Santamaria Day, observed on April 11 with national parades and performances, honors Santamaria’s bravery and courage.

Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas timeline

June 29, 1855
The Mercenary Comes

William Walker arrives in Nicaragua as a hired mercenary to help the Nicaraguan Democratic Party in its civil war against the Legitimists.

June 12, 1856
The New President

William Walker sets himself up as president of Nicaragua after conducting a sham election.

March 1857
Mora Declares War on Walker

Revolution leader, Juan Rafael Mora, fears that Walker's filibusters would make him invincible, so he launches war on Walker and his supporters.

April 11, 1857
Victory for Mora

During the Battle of Rivas, Santamaria ignites the thatch roof of Walker's fortress, forcing his forces to leave.

May 1, 1857
Walker flees

With victory imminent, Walker flees back to the U.S.

Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas FAQs

What is the Costa Rican way of honoring Juan Santamaria?

The day of Santamaria’s death is a national holiday, and the days coming up to it are marked by marching bands, parades, concerts, and dances all around the country. The celebrations are held all around the country, but mainly in Alajuela.

What is Costa Rica best known for?

Costa Rica is recognized for its breathtaking national parks, where visitors may participate in thrilling sports such as river rafting, canyoning, cave tubing, and zip line. It’s also one of the best destinations for animal enthusiasts to see exotic animals like macaws, sea turtles, and cute sloths.

Who owns Costa Rica?

In 1561, the Spanish arrived in Costa Rica and colonized the area. For almost 250 years, it was a Spanish colony. Costa Rica, along with numerous other Central American countries, declared independence from Spain in 1821.

What language is spoken in Costa Rica?

Spanish is the official language in Costa Rica.

Does Costa Rica have an army?

No. Costa Rica has not had a standing army since 1948.

Who is the president of Costa Rica?

The current president of Costa Rica is President Rodrigo Alberto de Jesús Chaves Robles, simply known as Rodrigo Chaves Robles.

Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas Activities

  1. Attend a parade

    Join one of the several parades and concerts. They’re held nationwide to celebrate Santamaría.

  2. Join in the burning of the inn

    The inn fire is re-enacted in many towns and villages. This is done by igniting a palm frond structure.

  3. Allow your kids to re-enact the battle

    Children dress up as filibusters and peasant farmers to go to school and recreate the Battle of Rivas in school plays. Allow your kids to recreate the battle — it’s the best way to learn.

5 Interesting Facts About Santamaria

  1. Rivas had its first combat

    A lesser-known first battle of Rivas was fought in 1855 between Walker's army and the Chamorro government of Nicaragua.

  2. Santamaria died at the age of 25

    Santamaria, who set fire to Walker's fortress's thatch roof, was shot and killed at 25.

  3. An airport named after him

    The Santamaria International Airport in Costa Rica is named after the youthful hero, Santamaria.

  4. Alajuela Park now has a Santamaria statue

    On September 15, 1891, Santamaria's monument was constructed at Alajuela Park.

  5. The conflict because of Santamaria

    Santamaria's services enabled the Costa Ricans to win the Second Battle of Rivas.

Why We Love Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas

  1. It promotes courage

    At only 19 years old, Juan Santamaria displayed immense bravery that belied his young age. Willing to risk his life for others, he showed a level of courage that is rare to see. The Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas inspires everyone to be courageous like him.

  2. It's a triumph celebration

    The Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas is a commemoration of the Costa Rican victory against Walker's army. It’s a day full of celebration and pride.

  3. It enables children to learn about history

    When history is taught, it offers present generations a glimpse into the past. Remembering historical milestones in a country’s past is one way to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas dates

2024April 11Thursday
2025April 11Friday
2026April 11Saturday
2027April 11Sunday
2028April 11Tuesday

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