In part because most of the structure is rebuilt on the back of the outstanding facade bell tower entrance, the interior is less impressive than some other churches. Nevertheless, stop in an take a peek.
The parque plaza, particularly the hedge like clipped trees lining it, is impressive. Narrow streets from Iglesia Del Calvario provide another view of the exterior of the San Juan. A plate on the church shows that France provided some funding for restoration.
The ruins of a church, now sheltered for restoration, are across the street from the Museum of Traditions and Legends, and was also fenced off and closed at the time we visited. Moon guide reports that this church was built on sacred ground used by the indigenous people, in 1742. Now, it's mostly famous for having suffered terrific damage when Somoza bombed the city in 1979.
The museum is heartbreaking for its history of political prisoner torture, but it's also very interesting for explaining with mannequins some 14 local legends. Most of them have a pattern of some broken romance or abuse, where a type of woman faces tragic lost of love and sometimes seeks revenge through a curse. Ultimately, some of these are imported from Spain, but most others from Leon, rooted in the mistreatment of the Indians at the time of conquest. Another room has mannequins of famous men in Leon.
The interior has gory images of Christ. Overall, if you have only time to visit one church after the Cathedral, this would be the best choice of many options. An exterior plate indicates a role of this church in the Sandinista revolution.
As the name suggests, this church is located on a hill, and can be seen from the cathedral along Calle Central. Walk up the steps to the church with red ocher towers, then look back into town over the checked red and white plaza. This church has several worn pieces of art of interest on it's exterior.
Barrio Laborio, near the old church of the same name is partly along the Calle la Españolita, reportedly one of the oldest streets in the city. Given the large number of mud brick and wattle homes in this area, this is very likely the best place to see early colonial architecture.
On the southwest corner of downtown on a rise above the old colonial neighborhood, known as Barrio Laborio, is the fully restored Iglesia El Laborio, which Moon guide reports is one of the oldest in the city. The simple architecture and setting of this church is stunning, but I liked the see through nature of the doorways on the anterior side of the church.
Originally built in 1639, making it one of the older churches in Leon, this building has obviously been restored several times. Nevertheless, the courtyard of trees makes this a pleasant setting. It also has three nice bronze bells. Inside is a rather unusual ceiling and some dark woodwork that shouldn't be overlooked.
Restoration is a major effort among the churches of Leon, which has more than it's share of work in this regard. A good example is La Merced. This baroque style church was built in 1762. Interior ceiling is entirely made of mahogany.
Striking yellow paint, swirling columns, and seemingly secular symbols (such as gaming dice and wheat) supposed to represent the life of Christ, are stunning features of the exterior of this church, which Moon guide reports is only building make of carved stone. Sign outside reports construction date of 1786. Couldn't get interior images at the time. Bank across the street makes this a convenient stop inroute toward main cathedral, just two blocks south.
Just a few blocks from Leon's Cathedral was Somoza's most brutal National Guard unit. Somoza was originally put in charge of the National Guard of Nicaragua, an army created by the USA, and it was at this location where for 60 years, political prisoners were tortured and killed. The building is a haunting reminder of political torture, and sober reminder about the rise of the Sandinista government. But this museum also has an excellent collection of mannequins used to illustrate various Nicaraguan legends and traditions. After taking the tour, walk along the perimeter walls and see the city.
Nicaragua's most famous late nineteenth century writer is Ruben Dario, who wrote poetry and short stories. His life was quite apart from Edgar Allen Poe, but Dario was an admirer of Poe, and he wrote an introduction to his Spanish translation he published of Poe's work. In any case, Dario and other writers living in Leon established the modernismo movement in Latin American literature which became famous even in Europe. Dario himself was born into some wealth and became Ambassador to Spain.
The museum is his former home in Leon, which is nicely located near the center of town. The architecture of the home is also a nice introduction to the typical Leon home that features a stark exterior wall, barred window, and doorway on the street side, contrasted by the tranquil garden courtyard interior.
Ruben Dario Museum includes an archive of his original works, garments that he wore, as well as furniture of his home.
Below are links to an excellent wikipedia biography, and for those able to read Spanish, to numerous poems offered free on-line at poemhunter.com.
A student protest where four students were killed by Somoza's National Guard troops is memorialized with a large mural and personalized memorial for the individual students killed. The mural appears on the face of it to be an accurate historical depiction, but sometimes I've seen such murals be reported as idealized representations of such an event. I don't know the case about this mural. This mural also appears to be a historical commentary on political relationships with the USA as well as the hated Somoza dictatorship. I provide portions of the mural in pieces, with the first being a close-up of the main scene.
On the northeast side of downtown, not far from our hotel La Posada del Doctor, and somewhat near the old train station is Iglesia de San Juan and its park. This building dates back to 1625, and so represents one of the older churches in town. It's rather diminutive from other churches, having a single bell tower, but its location gives it a neighborhood feel. The facade and towers look original, but the rear main hall of the church apparently was reconstructed in the 1700s.