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León Viejo
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-08-14 20:02:51 | Puerto Momotombo, Leon, Nicaragua
Keywords: Colonial, UNESCO
Nicaragua has only two UNESCO World Heritage sites, both of them related to Leon, the historic former capital of the country. This first site was the first location of the city on the Western shore of the Managua lake. The original city had a very short but very troubled history. In 85 years of existence, it has known more than its share of both human and natural disasters.

Founded in 1524 by the Spanish explorer Francisco Hernández de Córdoba as a major trading post where transited gold, precious woods and slaves. The territory was occupied by the Chorotega Indians but their peaceful farming society was easily subdued by the Spaniards.

The city peaked a mere 20 years later before beginning a tortured and quick descent into hell. In 1545 it was still a small town with about 200 Spaniards living in brick buildings and some 15 000 Indians living in wooden and hay structures.

But corruption was everywhere in the administration of the city and the ruling cast treated very poorly the people from lower ranks. In addition to imposing the Catholic faith onto the locals, the offenders, slaves and poor performance workers were often placed on the central plaza to be attacked by trained dogs. The event was not only a warning for the others not to rebel or stray away from the right path and also a form of entertainment for the rich.

Statue representing the oppression by religion and trained attack dogs.

The Fall

The poor administration led to major inflation which caused the rich to go elsewhere to gain more money. Many poor fled too to be able to live and feed themselves. When the Momotombo volcano erupted in 1578, it destroyed most of the city and buried most of structures.

Only ten houses were still in use by 1603 by a small group of families. The rest was already in ruins or covered by the ashes. In 1610 there was a major earthquake which destroyed these last structures and the city was abandoned. The city was displaced to the current location of León.

The ruins were forgotten and remained untouched until the first excavations in 1967. Because it is a unique site that presents the architecture of very early Spanish settlements in America with the original early 16th century buildings (not modified in anyway by repairs through the years) the site was added to the World Heritage list in year 2000. The site is small but relatively well arranged and your admission price of US$5 includes the service of a guide who gives you all the information during the 45 minutes visit of the museums and the ruins.

One of the small museums on the site.

Related posts:
Panama Viejo and Casco Viejo
Cathedral of León
Ouro Preto
Modern Ensemble of Pampulha


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