Situated near the town of Puerto Momotombo, León Viejo is one of the oldest Spanish colonial settlements in the Americas. It did not develop and so its ruins are outstanding testimony to the social and economic structures of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century.
The Ruins of León Viejo are situated near the town of Puerto Momotombo, Nicaragua, opposite the volcano of the same name. Located at the western end of Lake Managua, the archaeological site includes all vestiges unearthed to date and the surrounding area. They are an exceptional testimony of the first European settlements in the New World.
Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, during its short history the city has undergone a series of natural disasters. Partially destroyed by the Momotombo volcano that irrupted in 1578, the earthquake of 1610 struck the final blow by destroying what remained standing. The decision was taken to move the city and to rebuild it six leagues away. The gradual burial of the city due to natural disasters has preserved the vestiges unaltered and in the same environment, without having undergone any change.
The ruins extend over 31.87 ha (78.75 acres). To date, 17 colonial structures have been discovered, among which stand out for their social importance: the Cathedral of Santa María de la Gracia, the La Merced church and convent, the Casa de la Fundición (The Foundry) as well as other buildings for housing and civil and military installations. These structures all have a relatively simple shape and are built of tapial (compacted earthen walls).
As León Viejo did not develop, the ruins are a remarkable testimony to the economic and social structures of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. The site preserves the original layout of the first cities founded by the Spaniards in the New World before the Laws of the Indies. It also testifies to experiments carried out on materials to find those that would be used in future colonial buildings erected in the Americas.