León is situated in the north-west of Nicaragua and listens to the full name of Santiago de los Caballeros de León. The impressive colonial town was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba. However, the old León (León Viejo) is actually 30 kilometers away from the actual town of León. After the old León got destroyed by an eruption of the Momotombo volcano, León was founded anew next to the indigenous village Subtiaba in 1610. The city conserves the colonial style in its churches, secular buildings and private residences. Amongst the old and not yet refurbished buildings, you can still find the charm and authenticity of the ancient times.
León was victim to one pirate attack in 1685 by the French pirate William Dampier. However, the inhabitants could capture the pirates and made them rebuild the destroyed buildings, among them the stunning cathedral of León. Since Nicaragua’s independence in 1821, León also had been declared capital many times, always competing with its rival city Granada. Later, in 1978/79, León witnessed of one of the most important social movement of the city, initiated by university students. The whole town fought against the dictatorship of the Somoza family in the Nicaraguan revolution. The many mural paintings around the city remember these days.
Nowadays, León is seen as the university and metropolitan city of Nicaragua, with a lot of intellectual and political energy. León stays for the liberal element in Nicaragua and also many famous poets and writers, like Rubén Dario, had their residence in the city. You can find many museums dedicated to the political and intellectual history of the town. Amongst them are the Museum of Heroes and Martires, about the younger history of León, the Ruben Dario Museum inside his former residence, the art museum Ortiz-Gurdian Foundation with impressive exhibitions about classic and modern art or the Museum of Sacred Art in Sutiaba. Other important museums are the Museum of Legends and Traditions, the Adiact Museum, Museo Archivo Alfonso Cortes, Casa Salud Debayle and the Entomological Museum.
León was also the religious center of the whole region, for this reason you can still find a rich patrimony of Spanish colonial churches and buildings. On the main square you can see the biggest cathedral in Central America, the cathedral of León. It is possible to visit the inside of the cathedral, its rooftop and the cellars. Starting at the central square, you can take a nice walk around the city and visit the many churches. The most important ones are La Recolección, La Merced, Sutiaba, El Laborio and El Calvario. Also the surroundings of León have a lot to offer. You can visit the old town of León Viejo, surf down the volcano Cerro Negro or relax at the beach of Peneloya.