León, Colonial City
The Cathedral is the most prominent building of León. It is situated at the central plaza, and its construction began over two centuries ago. It was declared World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2011.
You can enter the building, get a tour, and set your eyes on some great architecture, but the best the Cathedral has to offer is probably seen at its rooftop, from where you will have a superb view of the city of León.
From the rooftop you can see several other churches and other prominent buildings. You can also see the area around León, including many volcanoes if the sky is clear. The roof itself is impressive, and when ascending you will understand why it took so long to complete the building. The Cathedral has 34 domes, many church bells and four huge statues on its roof.
Rubén Darío Museum
Rubén Darío, the famous poet and Nicaragua’s prodigal son moved to León at the age of fourty. He lived here for 14 years, and the house where he lived was turned into a museum in 1964.
The building still holds its colonial atmosphere, and its rooms and walls portray the life and history of the poet. Some of his belongings are on display, including his bed, his bible and a display of originals of his most famous works.
The churches of León
León has more colonial churches per capita than any other place in Nicaragua. If you are on the church tour, there are thirteen to check out in town. The most visited are the following:
– El Calvario Church. Without doubt one of the best looking churches in León, if not in Nicaragua. The church is located about four blocks east from the central park. Its extraordinary façade has bright colors and despite its neoclassical style, some baroque elements were added in the decoration.
– La Merced Church. Built approximately in 1762 by Roman Catholic monks, the church’s interior was modernized at the beginning of the 20th century. The predominant style is baroque, combined with a neoclassical style used in the façade and colonial style used at the south side of the building.
– La Recolección Church. A notable building because of its structure, height and dark yellow color; the church can be easily recognized when looking over the city from the rooftop of the Cathedral. The façade of the church has a Mexican baroque style.
– Sutiaba Church. Located in the Sutiaba neighborhood in León, a neighborhood that is still strongly tied to its indigenous roots. The church was built in front of the main plaza where the Sutiaba indigenous people would gather to socialize, and was the way in which the Spaniards introduced Christianity. The interior is very impressive, with very large wooden beams and pillars. Don’t miss out on the carved sun on the interior part of the roof.
Ruins of León Viejo
The sleepy ruins of Spain’s first settlement in Nicaragua make for an easy and worthwhile day trip from León. The first León was founded in 1524, and was one of the most important cities of the region.
The city was built close to Lake Managua and the Momotombo Volcao. When Momotombo erupted in 1610, it buried the city under ash. A new León was built some 30 kilometers to the west, where it is still today.
The first ruins of the old León were first uncovered in 1966, but the real excavations began in 1999. The Nicaraguan Culture Institute has completed fascinating excavations and has trained many local guides to take around. What you can see at León Viejo are the foundations of the houses, as well as some partially restored important buildings, like the main church. You can also walk up a hill from where you have a great view of the lake, the Momotombo Volcano, and other volcanoes surrounding the old city.
The ruins of León Viejo were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Inaugurated in 1885, the theater hosted opera and theater events with companies from Europe and South America. However, as time passed its activities diminished and a ferocious fire destroyed the building in 1956, leaving nothing but its façade. Thanks to the twinning with Utrecht (Netherlands), Zaragoza (Spain) and Hamburg (Germany), enough funds were put together in 1983 to reconstruct and renovate the theater. Modern equipment was installed, improving the sound, lighting, and atmospheric conditions in the building.
Different cultural events are organized every month, to find out about them, visit the theater’s message board located at its door.
Cinema at Plaza Siglo Nuevo
León has a modern cinema which shows mostly big-budget American films. Printed movie schedules are available in many shops around the city. The cinema is located at Plaza Siglo Nuevo (from the Cathedral, one block north, one block east, tel. 23117080). Tickets cost around $4. For further information, please visit www.psiglonuevo.com
Nicaragua’s first and most important university was founded in 1812, and today has six separate León schools with more than 6000 students; the main campus is considered one of the city’s loveliest collection of buildings.