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Leon is a second largest city in Nicaragua. Leon is located at 12.430 North, 86.890 West, in Central America. In Spanish Colonial times, the name was Santiago de los Caballeros de Leon, but is not used in modern times. As of 2006, the city had an estimated population of about 374,000 people. The most populated city is Managua(1.5 million), then Leon, followed by Granada at 190,000.
Leon is situated on the Rio Chiquito River, some 50 miles northwest of Managua, and some 11 miles north of the Pacific Ocean coast. Although less populous than Managua, Leon has long been the intellectual center of the nation, with the university founded here in 1813. Leon is also an important industrial and commercial center for Nicaragua.
The first city of Leon in Nicaragua was established in 1524 by Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba about 20 miles east of the present site. After the 1610 eruption of the Momotombo volcano, located only a couple miles away, caused extensive damage. The inhabitants of this old Leon decided to move to another location to prevent the loss of life and property again to an eruption. This is the site known as "The ruins of Leon" or Viejo Leon. The site had been a Native American town named Subtiava. The ruins of the abandoned city were excavated in 1960 and placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in the year 2000. The Ruins of Leon are a nice day trip from Playa Tesoro and is located half way between Managua & Leon.
Leon has fine examples of Spanish Colonial architecture, including the grand Cathedral of the Assumption, built from 1706 to 1740, with two towers added in 1746 and 1779.
When Nicaragua withdrew from the United Provinces of Central America in 1839, Leon became the capital of the new nation of Nicaragua. For some years the capital shifted back and forth between Leon and Granada, Nicaragua, with Liberal regimes preferring Leon and Conservative ones Granada, until as a compromise Managua was agreed upon to be the permanent capital in 1858.
In 1950 the city of Leon had a population of 31,000 people. Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza Garci-a was shot and mortally wounded in the city on September 21, 1956.
The building of El museo de tradiciones y leyendas was once the infamous XXI jail before the 1979 revolution. A guided tour in Spanish is available.
There are also several political murals around the city.