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Standing in the main plaza at the centre of town, it’s easy to imagine that Granada, Nicaragua was once the jewel in Spain’s New World crown. Everything from the immense stone Cathedral to the gorgeous colonial homes to the very name of this Central American city have been influenced with Spanish (and indirectly, Moorish) touches.



Founded in 1524, Granada dominates the strip of land between enormous Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean, and is the oldest colonial city in the Americas. Most of the buildings are not that old, however. A fire in 1856 destroyed most of the city, and earthquakes, volcanoes and a thirteen year civil war did the rest. Parts of the Cathedral are original, as well a handful of family homes and the gorgeous blue and white San Francisco Convent (Iglesia y Convento San Francisco).



While not nearly the size of the main Cathedral, the San Francisco Convent is one of the most striking sites in Granada. The traditional bright colored façade favored by the colonists opens onto an enormous welcoming area, from which there is a near perfect view of the city; tiled rooftops give way to swaying palm trees and finally to the distant volcanoes. Situated on top of the hill, it is said that in less stable times it was used as a fortress; having the distinct advantage of being able to see foes coming from either direction.



Inside, the church is filled with treasures: a rose garden carefully tended in the hot Nicaraguan sun, a detailed mural depicting the history of the region since pre-Columbian times, and finally a museum that houses jewelry, clay pots used by people of the area, dioramas showing cooking practices and popular pole dances (similar to the May Pole) and finally the courtyard filled with several pre-Columbian stone statues that were rescued from the bottom of the lake. These are powerful totems, representing the half-world between man and beast—creatures that are half man and half jaguarundi, or half snake, or even completely unidentifiable, seem to leap out of the stone high above the onlookers heads. Just outside you can hear the city continuing on its languid pace, old men rocking listlessly on verandas around the plaza while children play hopscotch.



Not all the charm of Granada is in its history, however. There is a burgeoning artist community that is gaining international attention. Granada’s proximity to both the lake and the ocean (not to mention jungles and volcanoes!) has been drawing outdoor enthusiasts and tourism. And beyond all of that, it is the people of Nicaragua that really showcase Granada’s charm.

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