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Nicaragua In the News

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Interesting Facts about Len Nicaragua

León is the second largest city in Nicaragua, after Managua. It was founded by the Spaniards as Santiago de los Caballeros de León and rivals Granada, Nicaragua, in the number of historic spanish colonial homes and churches. As of 2005, the city had an estimated population of about 175,000 people which increases sharply during university season with many students coming from other Nicaraguan provinces. It is the capital and municipality of the León department.

The capital of Nicaragua until 1857, León, 90km north of Managua, is these days a quiet provincial city – though it would be even quieter were it not for the presence of the National University, the country's premier academic institution. The original León was founded by Hernández de Córdoba in 1524 at the foot of Volcán Mombotombo, where its ruins – now known as León Viejo – still lie. The city was subsequently moved northwest to its present-day location soon after León Viejo's destruction by an earthquake and volcanic eruption in 1609. Today, the city's main attraction is its Cathedral, the largest in Central America, while an array of other churches – eighteen in all, displaying a fine spectrum of architectural styles and photographic opportunities – seem to spring up on practically every corner.

León is located along the Río Chiquito (Chiquito River), some 50 miles northwest of Managua, and some 11 miles east of the Pacific Ocean coast. The drive from Managua takes less than 90 minutes. Although less populous than Managua, León has long been the intellectual center of the nation, with its university founded in 1813. León is also an important industrial, agricultural (sugar cane, cattle, peanut, plantane, sorghum) and commercial center for Nicaragua.

The first city named León in Nicaragua was established about 20 miles east of the present site. The city was abandoned in 1610, after an eruption of the Momotombo volcano, located only a couple miles away, which left extensive damage in the form of flooding from Lake Managua. The inhabitants decided to move to its current location next to the Indigenous town of Subtiava. The ruins of the abandoned city are known as "León Viejo" and were excavated in 1960. In the year 2000, León Viejo was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

León has fine examples of Spanish Colonial architecture, including the grand Cathedral of the Assumption, built from 1706 to 1740, with two towers added in 1746 and 1779.

When Nicaragua withdrew from the United Provinces of Central America in 1839, León became the capital of the new nation of Nicaragua. For some years the capital shifted back and forth between León and Granada, Nicaragua, with Liberal regimes preferring León and Conservative ones Granada, until as a compromise Managua was agreed upon to be the permanent capital in 1858.

For all its present-day peace, León has a violent history. In 1824, tensions between the city's Liberals and the Conservatives of Granada erupted – a total of seventeen battles were fought in the city over the course of the next twenty years. In 1956 the first President Somoza was gunned down in León by the martyr-poet Rigoberto López Pérez. During the Revolution in the 1970s the town's streets were again the scenes of several decisive battles between the Sandinistas and Somoza's forces, and much of the damage caused – bullet-scarred buildings, cracked sidewalks – is still visible. Many key figures in the Revolution either came from León or had their political start here. The National University and the National Law School were (and perhaps still are) hotbeds of revolutionary ferment, and the presence of these institutions has contributed enormously to León's Liberal bent. While the student population livens things up considerably, the town generally seems very quiet, baking gently under the ferocious sun, although the atmosphere quickens in the evenings, when Mass-goers tumble from the churches and food and drink vendors set up on the central plaza.

In 1950 the city of León had a population of 31,000 people. Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza García was shot and mortally wounded in the city on September 21, 1956.

The building of El museo de tradiciones y leyendas was once the infamous XXI jail before the 1979 revolution. There are also several political murals around the city.