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Revolutionary lion

January 24, 2011

León: Granada’s rival is a harder, grimier city with a strongly remembered revolutionary past and far fewer tourists. The original (founded 1524) was buried by a volcanic eruption 400 years ago and its replacement is full of the grand buildings expected of the nation’s capital, which it then was.

León's cathedral is the biggest in Central America. The citizens submitted fake plans to the Spanish, for fear the real grandeur wouldn't be approved.

Cathedral detail

Time has left its grubby fingers on everything from the cathedral (the largest in Central America) to the litter-strewn, cemented-over parks. There are few tourists here and little has been done to accommodate them – the European cafés and US steakhouses of Granada are absent here. This is very much a living, working city of Nicaraguans, and I like that.

The city is packed with churches

Horses in the main square

When an egg splits...

León is the intellectual capital with universities, poets, art galleries and a literary scene. Nicaragua’s most famous poet, Rubén Dario, was from León, and so was the next most celebrated poet, Rigoberto Lopez Perez, who is little known outside the country but played a defining role in its history.

Velazquez meets Picasso in León's great contemporary art museum

Brighter future post-revolution mural

On 21 September 1956, Lopez penned a letter explaining his actions, before dressing as a waiter to infiltrate a party held at the Social Club here, and shooting longtime dictator Anastasio Somoza. Lopez was himself shot (martyred) at the scene, while Somoza died hours later from the assassination.

Revolutionary mural

Nicaraguans suffered for decades

Revolutions are rarely kind to a city’s architecture, but leave their legacy in rich murals and graffiti. Léon is no different in this respect and its facades are covered in everything from social realism to the abstract. Lions, symbols of the town, are everywhere, but so poorly depicted that I wonder if the Ameicans that created them had ever seen the animal.

Memorial to the revolutionary heroes

Graffiti outside the FSLN. The next election is in November.

It is hot here and people adapt to the stifling air by rocking in chairs outside their doorways, taking extravagant siestas and drinking the kind of sweet sticky juices that have the reverse effect on me – making me more thirsty. We meet a Frenchman who’s been living here for a while, and he takes us to a restaurant with ‘ze best filet mignon you weel taste’. It is good.

The churches are filled with beautiful, melancholy singing in the evenings

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