Surprisingly, the old León, or León Viejo, is quite far away from the current town of León. We decide to go for an efficient visit, by taking a taxi from León straight to the airport of Managua, and making a stopover in León Viejo. A friendly driver takes us straight to the ticket office of the historic site from our hotel. We buy our tickets at $5, which includes a private guide. The lady invites us straight away to first explore the small museum of León Viejo. Meanwhile, she starts telling us the history. Indigenous had been living for a long time in Nicaragua, and also on this very site, when the Spaniards arrives in the early 16th century. They established settlements and towns, and León was built on top of an existing settlement. The indigenous people were enslaved, and suffered greatly at the hands of the Spaniards.
The museum shows us both artefacts of the pre-hispanic period, as well as items from the Spanish conquistadores. We see beautiful statues with carved human bodies, pottery, coins, drawings, and more. Especially the drawing of a smoking Momotombo volcano is impressive. After all, it was a violent eruption of Momotombo which caused the inhabitants of León Viejo to hold a referendum and abandon the city. Thus, the current León was found - out of reach of anything that Momotombo might spew into the air. We hear horrific stories of how the Spanish ruled here, and how this impacted the original inhabitants of the region. Apart from their superior weapons, they also took viruses to which the locals succumbed. Of course, I have heard similar stories in other Central and South American countries, but it is still touching to hear these stories again, from a woman who is clearly from indigenous descent.
It is time to go out and explore León Viejo itself. After having been forgotten for almost 400 years, León Viejo was found again in 1967, and was subsequently excavated and researched. Excavations are still going on, and we soon see that most of the ancient city is still buried. We see the old foundations of colonial buildings. We walk to the Plaza Mayor, which as in any Spanish city, was the centre of town. We also see a cross and the statue of a chained slave here: the Spanish carried out severe punishments on the square during their rule. We walk along the Royal Street, and see the large house of a wealthy Spaniard, the ruins of the Santa María and the Señora de la Merced churches, before we walk up a small hill. On top, we find more ruins, and a view of the Momotombo and Momotombito volcanoes (the latter is an island in Lake Managua). Our guide tells us how research has shown that items were found iun the ground that confirm that the indigenous people lived here before the Spanish moved in. We walk back to the main street, to the wide Plaza Mayor, and say a heartfelt goodbye to our knowing and friendly guide before we are on our way to the airport.
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Personal travel impressions both in words and images from León viejo (Nicaragua). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to León viejo. Read more about this site.