Ruins of León Viejo Travel Guide

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Statue of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba

Statue of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba

Jana Albrecht

León Viejo, one of the oldest Spanish colonial settlements in the Americas, is located in the department of León in North-Western Nicaragua at the shore of lake Managua (Xolotlán) and the Momotombo volcano. This site was added to the World Cultural Heritage list in December 2000.

In 1524 a group of Spaniards, led by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, landed on the west coast of Nicaragua and made their way to the native community of Imabite (which is now the village of Puerto Momotombo and the location of the León Viejo ruins). The Spaniards decided to construct a settlement on this site due to its strategic location at the lake and its proximity to numerous indigenous settlements where cheap labour forces could be obtained.

But the town was very hot and overrun and so by the year 1570 the majority of the inhabitants had already moved to Subtiava, the spot of present-day León. This also led to a decline in the availability of labour. Another important factor for the abandonment of the site were the regular eruptions of the Momotombo volcano. In 1610, only 86 years after its foundation, León Viejo was completely abandoned.

The abandonment undoubtedly is responsible for the town's excellent state of preservation. In the last few years archaeological interest in the site has increased significantly and there are great opportunities for future research and excavations.

Visitors to the ruins can expect to find the original settlement structure. The majority of the remains, such as the church and the governer's house, are located along the main avenue that leads west from the main plaza. On the plaza the statue of Hernández de Córdoba, the founder of León Viejo, can be found. At the end of the Avenue the convent and the Iglesia de la Merced can be found. Walking up a hill, one can reach the place where once the fortress was located.

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March 19, 2007 new by choclady (1 point)

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