Cathedral of León
The León Cathedral personifies its community. Officially know as Insigne y Real Basílica Catedral de la Asunción de la Bienaventurada Virgen María, it was granted World Heritage Status by UNESCO in 2011. The construction on Central America’s largest cathedral began in 1746 and was completed in 1814. It was finally consecrated many years later in 1860. Designed by Diego José de Porres Esquivel, it may be one of the most iconic images in Nicaragua but unquestionably in León.
The overall look is one of power and strength. There in nothing delicate in its design. The Cathedral’s construction was built to withstand the frequent earthquakes, which are common on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. It is primarily in Baroque and Neo-classical styles, but is interwoven with hints of Gothic, Renaissance and Mudejar styles. It’s architectural style is often classified as an example of Eclecticism.
At first glance, the Cathedral is simple with clean lines. Upon further examination, you notice the intricate detailing. I notice something new every time I walk past. The rooftop design allows plenty of natural light and sufficient air circulation with its geometrically sprinkled cupolas. Make sure to take time to explore the Cathedral roof and underground as well.
Tickets may be purchased on the backside of the Cathedral. It is a bit hard to find, but look for what I call “the fairy door” located near the southeast corner. The views from the top give you a beautiful panoramic view of the city and the surrounding landscape. Just a note, shoes are not allowed on the roof. (Consider wearing socks, the surface can get very hot.) The crypts below house the buried remains of several distinguished Nicaraguans. The most prominent being Rubén Darío, Nicaragua’s most revered poet and father of the modernistic literary movement.
Life in downtown León revolves around the Cathedral. It is used as a reference point for most destinations as street signs and addresses are almost nonexistent in León. The Central Park, located just off the steps of the main entrance, is perpetually abuzz with locals and tourists.
There are a few stories about how this UNESCO site came to built in León. The one that I found to be most prevailing is one of a simple mix-up. Spain had given approval for two cathedrals, one in León, Nicaragua and another in Lima, Peru. While traveling to deliver the architectural plans, those in charge delivered the wrong plans to León. By the time anyone realized the blunder, it was too late. This may be story of legend, but I find it to be the most plausible.
Before and (almost) after restoration.
The Cathedral has been undergoing a facelift. Crews have been working endlessly to restore it to its original brilliance. It has been in need of repair for years, but even in its tattered state, the Cathedral has a natural allurement. I liken the aging facade to the graying hair of a distinguished gentleman. It looms with power and strength with a gravitational field that pulls a community together.
No trip to León would be complete without visiting the Cathedral. Take time to admire and appreciate its hidden complexities.
Viva León, Jodido!