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Top Nicaragua

Le贸n Viejo - Monument Leon - Nicaragua

A visit to the ruins of Nicaragua鈥檚 first capital, Le贸n Viejo, is a trip in time鈥攂ack to the early years of the Spanish conquest when beheadings, slavery and native uprisings were common.


Located right outside Puerto Momotombo, Sitio Hist贸rico Colonial Ruinas de Le贸n Viejo is an easily accessible park. Tours of the site include visits to the Royal Foundry House, where gold was processed and slaves were marked, giving the location the cheerful nickname 鈥渉ouse of the howls;鈥 merchant houses with their discreet alleyway exit routes (used during native uprisings); and the crypt of Iglesia de Nuestra Se帽ora de Merced.


Until the site was rediscovered and excavated in 1967, Le贸n Viejo was a Nicaraguan legend that mixed the immorality of Sodom and Gomorah with the destruction of Poneloya and the sinking of Atlantis.


Spanish captain Francisco Hern谩ndez de C贸rdoba founded the city in 1524鈥攔ight where indigenous Chorotegas had a town called Imabite. In the same year, the busy captain had a fortress built for the new city, and also found time to settle Granada.


Two years later, C贸rdoba would be beheaded in Le贸n鈥檚 central square on a charge of treason by the country鈥檚 brutal ruler Pedrarias D谩vila. C贸rdoba鈥檚 head was then buried in the square while his body went into the church crypt.


D谩vila, the governor of the D谩rien-Panama region, had a well-deserved reputation for being bloodthirsty and corrupt. In 1528, he capped a notoriously ruthless reign with the execution of 18 Chorotega warriors鈥攑ayback for the murder of half a dozen Spaniards. D谩vila had the warriors dragged one by one to the plaza, where they were ripped apart by his dogs. In the park, a white and yellow statue of D谩vila, with a dog at his heel, holds gourds in memory of the dead.


D谩vila鈥檚 daughter and grandsons would go on to murder Fray Antonio de Valdivieso, Bishop of Nicaragua and champion of indigenous rights, before also killing local Spanish officials and sacking the treasury.


It was a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions between 1580 and 1610 that would finally put an end to the city (some would say as divine retribution). Locals took what they could and, in 1610, fled from Momotombo鈥檚 ashy fury to settle at the site of the current Le贸n.


Over the following centuries, Nicaraguans told tall tales of how the old city had been swallowed by fire or had plunged into Lago Nicaragua. The old city was declared a national historical site in 1994 and, in 2000, UNESCO named the ruins to it'sWorld Heritage list.

Near Puerto Momotombo
Leon, Nicaragua

Monument Types:

Getting There
Most tour operators in Le贸n offer packages that include visits to the old city. To get there on your own, take the bus from the Le贸n terminal to the terminal at La Paz Centro. Buses from La Paz Centro to Puerto Momotombo ($0.50) run hourly from 6:30 a.m

Price Description: The $2 entrance fee (plus $1.30 for cameras and $2.60 for video cameras) includes an English- or Spanish-speaking guide.

Relative price: Budget

Open Hours from:Mon. 鈥 Fri.: 9 a.m. 鈥 5 p.m.

Open Hours to:Sat.: 9 a.m. 鈥 4 p.m.

Days Closed:Sunday

Travel Skills: None

Here are other activities in and around Leon that may be of interest: Cementerio Guadalupe de Le贸n,

By Rachael Hanley
A sometime newspaper journalist with a heavy side of wanderlust, Rachael moved to Quito in November to work on the V!VA staff. She is currently...
22 Jun 2009

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