The colonial city of León is home to the biggest cathedral in Central America: La catedral de León (officially named Insigne y Real Basílica Catedral de la Asunción de la Bienaventurada Virgen María). Designed by the Guatemalan architect Diego José de Porres Esquivel, the building is also considered as one of the most beautiful ones in the Americas.
The cathedral was constructed between 1747 and 1814, featuring mostly Baroque and Neoclassical styles. The building shows an outstanding combination of Spanish Art adapted to the local environmental and social circumstances. Since 2011 the cathedral is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To enjoy your visit, you can either join one of the three different tours or walk through the cathedral on your own and marvel over the great architecture.
When entering the cathedral you will feel the power of the building, as it is famous for its natural light in the interior. Many rich people from León bought subterranean tombs to help financing the construction and the maintenance of the cathedral. One of the most famous graves is the one of the Nicaraguan writer and poet Rubén Darío, referred to as the Prince of Castilian Letters. A lion watches over his tomb, which can be found at the end of the central nave on the right side.
Another must-see in the inside of the cathedral is the Cristo Negro de Pedrarias – the black crucifix. This wooden sculpture is located on the left side of the chorus. A guided tour around the first floor of the cathedral will also reveal to you the secret of the three eyes, which are painted at different places in the interior.
One of the guided tours will lead you through the subterranean cellars and vaults of the cathedral. There are seven cellars in total, three of them are open to the public. During earthquakes these cellars will give flexibility to the building. However, the chambers were also used for storage, to hide treasures and to access a tunnel system connecting different churches.
Instead of descending down to the underground, you can also climb up to the rooftop of the cathedral. It is one of the highest buildings in León and offers an impressive view over the colonial city. But it is not only the beautiful vista which will impress you. The roof is already an attraction by itself, as it shines in a bright white against the deep blue Nicaraguan sky. So, do not forget to take off your shoes in order not to leave any footprints!
To buy your entrance tickets head to the back of the building. On the left side of the back wall a small door leads to a crypt where you will find all the information needed. The price to ascend the rooftop and the tour to the cellars are around 3 Dollar each. The guided tour through the first floor of the cathedral costs around 1 Dollar. Remember that the cathedral is closed for tourists during mass and religious ceremonies.