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, a World Heritage Site, are situated near the town of Puerto Momotombo, Nicaragua, opposite the volcano of the same name. It was the original location of León.
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.
The Ruins of León Viejo 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.
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.
The city was not destroyed by the 1610 quake, however due to the damage caused to the infrastructure and the seismic activity, the settlers held a referendum and decided to relocate the city to its present location, about 20 miles to the west.
Nevertheless, the old city was gradually buried by the continuous expulsions of ash and volcanic stone coming from Momotombo ;and by lake sediments. The gradual burial of the city has preserved the vestiges unaltered.
The Ruins of León Viejo extend over approximately 32 ha (79 acres). To date, 17 colonial structures have been discovered. These structures all have a relatively simple shape and are built of tapial (compacted earthen walls). Those which stand out for their social importance include:
- the Cathedral of Santa María de la Gracia
- the La Merced church and convent
- the Casa de la Fundición (The Foundry)
- other buildings for housing and civil and military installations
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.