Leon Viejo | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Leon Viejo

Mira Lago, Leon, Nicaragua

About Leon Viejo

Leon Viejo was one of the earliest settlements built by Spanish colonialists in the Americas. Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, a leading figure in the development of Nicaragua, Leon Viejo developed into an important centre of trade.

When Leon Viejo was excavated, the body of Hernandez de Cordoba was found in its crypt. He had been beheaded in 1526, accused of treason.

Whilst an important city, being the capital of the province, Leon Viejo was never a large one and consisted mostly of fairly basic buildings. In 1545, at its peak, it had only around two hundred Spanish inhabitants.

In 1550, a crime shook Leon Viejo and, according to beliefs at the time, made it the subject of a curse. This event was the murder of Antonio Valdivieso, a Franciscan monk thought to have played a central role in bringing Christianity to the country. From then on, Leon Viejo fell into decline and suffered high inflation.

In 1578, the eruption of the nearby Momotombo volcano drove away many of its citizens, followed in 1610 by a major earthquake which destroyed the remaining city.

Today, Leon Viejo is in ruins, although much of its foundations and cellars are still intact, owing in great part to the fact that it was never allowed to develop. Visitors can see its old convent, cathedral and governor’s mansion as well as its royal foundry.

There is also a statue of a indigenous man which tells the story of those who had lived in Leon Viejo prior to the arrival of the conquistadors. They suffered terribly under the Spanish, being subject to atrocities, as shown in the statue, where the man is being attacked by dogs.

The ruins of León Viejo are a UNESCO World Heritage site.