León is a department (state) in northwestern Nicaragua (5,138 km2). It is also the second largest city in Nicaragua, after Managua. It was founded by the Spaniards as León Santiago de los Caballeros and rivals Granada, Nicaragua, in the number of historic Spanish colonial churches, secular buildings, and private residences. As of 2007, the city had an estimated population of 191,076 which increases sharply during university season with many students coming from other regions of Nicaragua. It is the capital and municipality of León department.
León is located along the Río Chiquito (Chiquito River), some 90 kilometres (56 miles) northwest of Managua, and some 18 km (11 miles) east of the Pacific Ocean coast. León has long been the political and intellectual center of the nation and its National Autonomous University of Nicaragua UNAN was founded in 1813. León is also an important industrial, agricultural (sugar cane, cattle, peanut, plantain, sorghum) and commercial center for Nicaragua.
The first city named León in Nicaragua was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba about 20 miles (32 km) east of the present site. The city was abandoned in 1610 after a series of earthquakes. The ruins of the city are known as “León Viejo” and were excavated in 1960. In the year 2000, León Viejo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
León had been the capital of Nicaragua since colonial times, so naturally when Nicaragua withdrew from the United Provinces of Central America in 1839, León became the capital of the new nation. For some years the capital shifted back and forth between León and Granada, Nicaragua, with Liberal regimes preferring León and Conservative ones Granada, until as a compromise Managua was agreed upon to be the permanent capital in 1858.
In 1950 the city of León had a population of 31,000 people. Nicaraguan President and dictator Anastasio Somoza García was shot and mortally wounded in León on September 21, 1956.
León, Santiago de los Caballeros in Nicaragua is rich in both monuments and historical places. Some architectural monuments include: the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Church of Subtiava, Church of San Francisco, Church of la Recolección, Church of la Merced, City Hall, León Viejo.
Geological features around Leon include:
- Poneloya beach, a major tourist destination on the Pacific Ocean.
- San Jacinto Swarms, geothermal place at the base of Santa Clara volcano which form part of its vents. This phenomenon is known as Thermal sharpen to simmer.
- Momotombo volcano, with its 1,300 m (4,270 ft) summit, it is a visual reference in the Leonese landscape. At its feet lies León Viejo. Momotombo name is a Native American word for Great Summit Burning. There is a geothermal power plant on the foothills.
- Cerro Negro volcano, one of the youngest in the world (1850), Cerro Negro has wrought havoc several times to the city of Leon and its surrounding area since it was born with long, sky-clogging, and destructive ashfalls, the most recent in 1995.
One of the main tourist attractions in Leon is:
Volcano Boarding is considered an “extreme sport” with the danger of falling off and getting cut by the rough volcanic ash. Protective gear, like jump suits and goggles are used.