This is how a chicken must feel, when it’s been roasted in a oven. The sun is burning down on me, the shining white roof is hurting my eyes and my feet are burning on the pavement. But it’s worth it. The views over León are amazing and the roof just might be the most beautiful part of this cathedral. And to be honest I’ve been in quite a few churches and cathedrals – my friend Ingrid always pulls me in when we do citytrips – but this is the first time I’m actually on top of one of them.
One of the reasons this roof might be the best part of the cathedral is simple because it’s the best maintained part. The walls look ‘moldy’, dirty. Strangely enough the roof is very well painted. It’s even been painted while I’m above here. Let’s hope it’s the start, because this Basilica de la Asuncion, as it’s officially called might just be Leóns architectonics masterpiece, built by architect Diego Jose de Porres Esquivel.
His masterpiece is still standing. The first three cathedrals who were built on this place didn’t make it. The first one was built in 1610. In 1624 it was replaced by a wood-and-adobe structure. The wood burned very well when prate William Dampier put it on fire in 1685. When the ashes were cooled down, León built another adobe, which was used until the building of this masterpiece started in 1747. It took the indigenous laborers from Subriava and Posoltega quit some time to built it. More or less hundred years.
Inside the cathedral, next to the altar, is the tomb of Ruben Dario, León’s favorite poet. Other poets, like Alfonso Cortes and Salomon de la Selva, are buried here as well. They accompany art pieces like the Stations of the Cross by Antonio Sarria and El Cristo Negro de Pedrarias; the oldest Catholic image in the Americas.
The history of the cathedral may be symbolic for the history of León. The city was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba. He choose – strangely enough – a place near the foot of volcano Momotombo to built a city. The volcano did what volcanos do and after a series of natural disasters the Spanish rebuild the city in 1610 near the important indigenous settlement of Subtiava, the place it still is today. But also on this place it wasn’t free of natural disasters, being still in volcano country.
When the Spanish were in charged León was the capital of the country. It explains the enormous amount of churches the city has. The city also hosted the first university of the country: The Universidad Autonoma de Nicaragua, which was opened in 1912. Up until today León is a city with a strong student community. That’s probably why it’s the most politically progressive city in Nicaragua. During the Nicaraguan revolution almost the whole town fought against Somoza, the dictator who was governing and ruining Nicaragua with the help of the United States of America. Reminders of that revolution are found all over town.
Leóns big rival is Granada. Both cities wanted to be the capital of Nicaragua. The country found a beautiful solution. A bit like Australia solved the issue between Sydney and Melbourne. Both cities didn’t became the capital. Instead Nicaragua choose Managua as a capital. It doesn’t take anything away from the glory of León. Especially from the glory of the rooftop of the cathedral of León.