Iglesia de San Juan overlooks a park of the same name (Parque San Juan) and it's a mottled grey construction, not exactly what you would call prety. The church is strangely asymmetrical and very apparently in need of some restoration. But it does have a certain stoic charm to it. Built between 1625 and 1650 and rebuilt in the 1739, the architecture of Iglesia de San Juan is modernist neoclassical. The exterior, reconstructed by Monseñor Santiago Abarca in the 1850s, hides a lovely white interior with glass cases of saints and delicate ceiling murals. This was actually his last construction.
The church is on the edge of Leon's relatively safe downtown, while the park and the nearby bus station area can be a little dodgy. This neighbourhood of León will give you a good feel for what the city was like in the 1700s: church, park, small houses of adobe using traditional taquezal technique (wood frame construction with mud filling), and the nearby market.
No trip to León would be complete without a visit to the city's most prominent building, Basílica de la Asunción. Situated at the central plaza, this impressive building is Central America's biggest cathedral. Construciton of the building started in 1747 and went on for over hundred years. Three architectural styles grace its magnificent proportions – colonial, neoclassical and baroque. From the outside it appears as just another large church, but the towering marble columns of the interior are enough to leave a visitor breathless. The place is beautifully maintained, and the walls are decorated with exquisite frescoes.
León's Cathedral features three main levels, each of them represents something different. Seven small cellars have been constructed below the building. They have been used to store and hide treasures. One of the cellars also provided access to a system of tunnels that connected several churches. This architectural jewel is also a final resting place of Rubén Darío, the most famous Nicaraguan poet. His tomb can be found just to the right of the altar, guarded by a weeping stone lion. Other tombs to look out for int the cathedral include a lesser known poet Alfonso Cortés and independence fighter Miguel de Larreynaga. At the cathedral's centre is a beautiful, Spanish-style courtyard known as the Patio de Principes.
You can pay a small fee to ascend to the rooftop of the building. From there, you will have a superb view of the city, several León's churches and the surrounding volcanoes. The roof itself is impressive. The cathedral has 34 domes, many church bells (the heaviest is believed to weigh over three tonnes) and four huge statues on its roof. The cathedral's domed roof also holds the bell La Libertad that announced to the world the independence of Cental America from the Spanish empire.
One of the best looking churches in León, if not in Nicaragua, Iglesia El Calvario is located about four blocks east from Parque Central, at the end of the Calle Central Rubén Darío. It is set at the top of wide steps on a small hill overlooking one of León’s narrow streets. The exact date of its construction is not known, but it was somewhere in the first half of the 18th century. The church was reconstructed at the beginning of the 20th century, conserving its original appearance, and then beautifully renovated in the late 1990s.
Iglesia El Calvario was built by the illustrious Mayorga family. Despite its neoclassical style some baroque elements were added in the decoration. The façade of the building is extraordinary. It is painted yellow, with brightly coloured biblical scenes that resemble comic strip panels, and has red brick bell towers. The ornamentation in the front reflects the increasing French influence in Spain at the time.
The interior is quite nice as well. There are two famous statues known as El Buen y El Mal Ladrón (The Good and the Bad Thief).
Viejo Leon is the archaeological sight of the "old city" ruins. We paid less than $10US (including tip) for a guide to walk around the ruins with us and explain the sights. His English was very good and he was extremely friendly. It was a very informative tour - well worth the $10US!
Iglesia de La Recolección is a beautiful church painted in a deep yellow colour. It is specially beautiful in the afternoon/evening when the sun is low. Construction of the church begun in December 1786. The façade has got a Mexican baroque style and inside the altars in the three naves have an neoclassic style. Worth seeing is also the painted ceiling and the mahogany columns.
The El Calvario church is standing on top of Calle Central Rubén Dario, about five blocks from Parque Central. Its colourful façade in pink brick and yellow can be seen from far away when walking along the road. On the façade there are also colourful paintings with biblical motifs. Inside, the church is painted white and as you enter you are met by the crucified Jesus and thieves. The church was constructed during the first half of the 18th century and has a neoclassical style with baroque elements.
The full name of the church is Iglesia Dulce Nombre de Jesús El Calvario.
With Quetzaltrekkers we went to the full moon hike in July 2008 to the Volcano Telica.
It was a adventure for me and my 15 years old son to walk in the night to the volcano rim. We startet at 11 p.m. and arrived just before sun rise at the crater. It was very cold and windy. Unfortunately it was green season and because of the rain there was so much steam that we couldn’t see the lava glowing.
We had fantastic guides, and I love the philosophie from Quetzaltrekkers.
The teacher who told me about the murals asked if I were interested in visiting El Fortín which was the last holdout of the Guardia Nacional in León. I had been thinking of going there so when she said that she knew a taxi driver who would take us there for 5 cordobas ($0,30) I agreed with her. If I hadn't read that a dirt road leads there I would have thought that they would take me some isolated place and rob me (I've got a vivid imagination you see). On the hill top there are some cells left. Some with tiny window up or no window at all. No heating, no toilet. It must have been terrible for those held there as prisoners. The walls are full of writings by the prisoners. What unhuman circumstances those poor people had.
From the hill you can see León down in the valley and all over its surroundings. It gives totally different feeling to the place.
When we arrived in León the teacher said that it would be 50 codobas. I told her that we agreed it would be 5 cordobas. My Spanish is not perfect but I am 100% sure that she said 5 cordobas earlier. 50 cordobas is not much money for me and I paid it, but it left me with a feeling of being cheated. The teacher wanted to take me to see other sights of León but I said that I had had enough and left.
I would love to tell you about these heroes and martyrs but everything is mixed in my head and I don't want to give you wrong information. If I find out who and why these men became heroes and martyrs I will add it here later on. Or is there somebody who can help me? Now you've only got my photos. Sorry!
The Mauseleo Murals tell the history of Nicaragua. You just have to stand a moment there and somebody comes and wants to tell you the story - for the pay of course - in my case a teacher of deaf children. She knew the history and I learnt new things, but at the same time it was annoying because I wanted to concentrate on taking photos and she didn't want to respect it. More about her in the El Fortín tip. Anyway I found these murals very interesting and wished that they would be protected so next generations would see them as well.
The cathedral dominates the main square. Its towers seem to touch the sky. Lions (leones) guard it and inside one lion guards the tomb of Ruben Darío, Nicaragua's most famous poet. From one of its towers you can see all over the city and its surroundings. I didn't climb there but only because I heard about the possibility when I was back in Granada.
Along Calle Central, between the cathedral and Ruben Dario museum, is a small plaza like park with memorials to four poets and writers famous in Leon's period of Modernisimo Literature period.
The domes and arches of the interior are impressive, of course, as are many paintings, statues, and tombs.
Like everywhere in Central America there was more than one church in Leon. I didn't go inside this yellow one, just admired it outside and in fact only at home I found a name to it - La Recoleccion.