In and Around León
ViviendasLeón is headquartered in León, a city an hour northwest of the capital, Managua. A city of approximately 160,000, León is the second largest city in Nicaragua. Founded by the Spanish conquistador Hernandez de Cordoba in 1523, León was the capital of Nicaragua for more than 200 years until 1858. It is a wonderful, walkable city for students to explore. Leoneses (the people of León) are rightfully proud of their city as it is not only the intellectual and educational heart of Nicaragua but also rich in the arts and colonial architecture. León is the home of the indigenous community of Sutiaba who have lived in the area well before the arrival of the Spanish.
As is true of many Latin American cities, the focal point of Leon is the cathedral. Views from the cathedral’s roof affords views of the city and of the volcanoes beyond. Leoneses routinely gather at the Cathedral not only for religious activities but to meet friends or just watch the world go by. The central market is directly behind the cathedral and the city’s primary park fronts it. The Cathedral of León is known as one of the largest in Central America. Construction on the building started in 1746 and lasted roughly 100 years. The cathedral houses significant works of religious art that date from the mid-1700’s to the present, including massive 10’ high paintings for each of the stations of the cross. The cathedral is also the burial place for most of the country’s prestigious political, intellectual and religious figures. One of these is the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. It was selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2011.
El Museo de Tradiciones y Leyendas (Museum of Traditions and Legends)
The Museo is located in a building that served as a jail for political prisoners from 1921 to 1979. The cells are now galleries dedicated Nicaraguan folktales and legends. One local folkloric art tradition on display is one that originated in Spain: giant puppets (gigantonas), which are paraded around the city during festivals in August and December. In the museum’s courtyard are a large series of mosaic panels depicting the legends and traditions of Nicaragua, designed by noted Leon artist Daniel Pullido
Ruben Dario Museum
The poet Ruben Dario is perhaps Nicaragua’s most famous literary figure. A poet, journalist, novelist and one-time Nicaraguan ambassador to France, Ruben Dario is regarded by many as the “spokesman of Latin American modernism.” His poetry was known for its experimentation, complexity, and rhythm and engendered great pride among Hispanics. The Rubèn Darìo Museum is located in the home where he spent his childhood and returned at the end of his life. The life history of Rubén Darío is portrayed on the walls and some of his belongings are on display, including his bed, his bible, and some of his writings.
Art Museum Fundación Ortiz Gurdián
The art museum of the Ortiz Gurdián Foundation is located in two restored, colonial buildings that are excellent examples of Spanish Colonial architecture of the 17th Century. Each building houses different galleries containing paintings, sculptures, images, and contemporary arts of Latin America. The first building shows pieces of art chronologically, beginning with objects from the 16th century and ending with contemporary arts. In the second building one can find more exhibits of contemporary arts.
Leon is famous for its murals depicting events leading up to and after the revolution in 1979. A walk in the historic center of town reveals a number of these including the depiction of the history of Nicaragua, the influence of the CIA in the Nicaraguan social reform project of the revolution, the site of a student demonstration and killings by national guard troops, and many others.
Leon Cultural Center
A visit to the local cultural center provides travelers with an introduction to Nicaraguan culture through the art displayed in the center, classes offered including Latin and folkloric dance, music, painting, mosaic and other classes, and performances by musicians and dance groups.
A visit to the Sutiaba neighborhood in Leon includes the Sutiaba Cathedral, Sutiaba Archeology Museum, and Sutiaba Cultural Center. The cathedral construction began in 1698, at the time of magistrate Diego Rodríguez Menéndez, and was completed August 24, 1710. In the war with El Salvador, in 1844, the dome that crowned the tower was destroyed and finally re-built in the early 20th century. The most notable aspects of the cathedral are the sun painting on the ceiling of the interior and the now lost figures of indigenous elders that were once placed in the church façade. The altar is said to be one of the largest and most well preserved in Central America. The archeology museum holds some examples of pottery found in the region and recreations of the painting style used to decorate pottery and other artifacts. The cultural center supports the community of Sutiaba with workshops in sewing and other skills, and a store selling locally made handicrafts.
Volcan Cerro Negro
Literally Black Hill, this volcano just 45 minutes from the center of Leon has been the most active in the chain that stretches from the northern to the southern borders of Nicaragua. It is small in comparison to the others and is characterized by its uniform black volcanic ash. Hiking to the top of the Cerro is a routine outing for student groups. From here one can see the entire volcanic plain that makes up the geography of the Leon region.
Leon Viejo is the second oldest and most well developed historical Spanish settlement in the Americas. Due to the volcanic eruption in 1610 that buried the city in ash, Leon Viejo remained preserved for 350 years until it was discovered in 1966. Its ruins are an outstanding example of towns of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century and provide archeological evidence of the material culture of one of the earliest colonial settlements. Leon Viejo reveals how colonists adapted European architectural and planning concepts to the material potential of another region. Since the unearthing of the town, eighteen buildings or structures have been identified. Because of its archaeological richness, Leon Viejo was named a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2000.