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Ruins of León Viejo

Ruins of León Viejo

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. Moreover, the site has immense archaeological potential.

Ruines de León Viejo

Léon Viejo est l'un des plus anciens peuplements coloniaux espagnols des Amériques. La ville ne s'étant pas développée, ses ruines offrent un remarquable témoignage des structures économiques et sociales de l'empire espagnol au XVIe siècle. Le site possède, en outre, un immense potentiel archéologique.

آثار ليون فيخو

تُعتبر ليون فيخو إحدى أقدم المستعمرات السكانية الاسبانية في اميركا. فتقدّم أنقاض هذه المدينة التي لم تتطوَّر، شهادةً مميّزةً على البنية الاقتصادية والاجتماعية للامبراطورية الاسبانية في القرن السادس عشر. فضلاً عن ذلك، يتميّز الموقع بطاقةٍ أثريّةٍ هائلة.

source: UNESCO/ERI

莱昂•别霍遗址

莱昂·别霍地区是西班牙在美洲最早的殖民地之一。由于它在各个方面都没有什么发展和改变,所以它的遗址成为16世纪西班牙帝国社会、经济结构的重要见证。另外,遗址还具有巨大的考古潜力。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Руины города Леон-Вьехо (Старый Леон)

Леон-Вьехо – одно из старейших испанских колониальных поселений в Америке. Оно хорошо сохранилось, поэтому его руины являются ярким свидетельством социального и экономического устройства испанской колониальной державы в XVI в. и имеют огромное археологическое значение.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Ruinas de León Viejo

León Viejo es uno de los más antiguos asentamientos coloniales españoles de América. Las ruinas de esta ciudad, que nunca logró desarrollarse, ofrecen un testimonio excepcional de las estructuras económicas y sociales del imperio español en el siglo XVI. El sitio ofrece inmensas posibilidades a las excavaciones arqueológicas.

source: UNESCO/ERI

レオン・ビエホ遺跡群

source: NFUAJ

Ruïnes van León Viejo

León Viejo is een van de oudste Spaanse koloniale nederzettingen in de Amerika's. De nederzetting heeft zich niet ontwikkeld, waardoor zijn ruïnes een bijzonder getuigenis vormen van de sociale en economische structuren van het Spaanse Rijk in de 16e eeuw. León Viejo laat zien hoe Europese architectuur- en planningsconcepten zich aanpasten aan de materiële mogelijkheden van een ander gebied. De ruïnes zijn een rijke bron voor archeologisch onderzoek. Ze vormen een historisch monument van uitzonderlijk belang en zijn vrijwel uniek in Midden-Amerika. Er zijn maar weinig 16e-eeuwse steden intact en ongewijzigd gebleven door latere verbouwingen.

Source: unesco.nl

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Ruins of León Viejo © OUR PLACE
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief Summary

The Ruins of León Viejo are located near the town of Puerto Momotombo opposite the volcano of the same name, at the western end of Lake Managua, itself located 68 km from the capital of Managua. The archaeological site includes all vestiges unearthed to date and the surrounding area.

The Ruins of León Viejo 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. 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.

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.

Criterion (iii): The ruined town of León Viejo provides exceptional testimony to the material culture of one of the earliest Spanish colonial settlements.

 Criterion (iv): The form and nature of early Spanish settlements in the New World, adapting European architectural and planning concepts to the material potential of another region, are uniquely preserved in the archaeological site of León Viejo.

Integrity

The space on which the Ruins of León Viejo lie contains the main material, architectural and urban elements of the old town of León founded in 1524 and which disappeared in 1610. The main urban roads (Calle Real - the Royal Road - and Plaza Mayor - the Grand-Place), and the most important buildings (religious, civil, and those for housing and military installations), which are fundamental and characteristic elements of the Spanish-American cities founded in the 16th century are clearly defined.

The abandon of the city in 1610 and its gradual burial helped preserve the ruins unaltered for over 350 years, until their discovery in 1967. Since then, excavations, building surveys, scientific studies and conservation works were carried out, which would ensure the preservation of the existing ruins and their exploitation in a sustainable manner with the participation- and for the benefit -- of the community.

Anthropogenic risks remain minor, because the ruins are in a sparsely populated area not developed an urban scale. The main threats to the integrity of the site are natural phenomena.          

Authenticity

There is no doubt about the identification of the site. Excavations have proved that it is indeed the colonial city of León. The excavated vestiges are authentic, excluding some necessary interventions for their waterproofing.

The Ruins of León Viejo preserve the plans of a Spanish-American city founded during the first stage of the conquest and colonization of the American continent. They are the testimony to the use and application of materials and construction techniques of the Old World adapted to the environment and resources of the New World.

Without losing sight of the need to preserve their authenticity as ruins, it is possible to ensure their enhancement in a perspective of sustainable development, in accordance with normative legal instruments, studies and conservation plans implemented and for the benefit of local communities.

Protection and management measures

The Ruins of León Viejo were declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation by Law 167 and its amendments, issued on 31 May 1994 in No. 100 of the Official Journal "La Gaceta". It is well established that the property benefits from special protection, as contained in the Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage of the Nation (Decree-Law No. 1142, published on 2 December 1982 in No. 282 of the Official Journal "La Gaceta").

The protected area belongs to the State, and the peripheral zone which contains archaeological remains belongs to private owners.

The conservation of the Ruins and the Outstanding Universal Value they represent is achieved by the implementation of a management plan. The latter, which must be regularly updated, defines the response actions and those aimed at the enhancement of the site in a sustainable perspective. The management plan is implemented by the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture (State entity responsible for the administrative management of the listed site), in coordination with various national and local institutions.

The Nicaraguan Institute of Culture is committed to strengthening the conservation of the Ruins of León Viejo in designing and implementing normative instruments specific to the designated area and its buffer zone, and to providing financial support for the proper implementation of the management plan.

Long Description

The form and nature of early Spanish settlement in the New World, adapting European architectural and planning concepts to the material potential of another region, are uniquely preserved in the archaeological site of León Viejo, which provides exceptional testimony to the material culture of one of the earliest Spanish colonial settlements. The site of León Viejo is a historic monument of exceptional importance that is probably unique in Central America. This is largely due to its state of preservation, as few 16th century cities are preserved intact and unaltered by subsequent rebuilding.

León Viejo is an excellent laboratory for experimentation with excavation techniques, and the artefacts discovered provide a rich inventory of materials dating from the first years of contact between the Spanish settlers and the indigenous population in the 16th century. These materials may be used to establish comparative chronological sequences to date other sites in Nicaragua and neighbouring regions. Given the presence of a pre-Hispanic population, the site offers the potential to study the demographic, social and economic dynamic between the native and Spanish communities. Moreover, burials may supply details about diet and diseases introduced by the Spaniards. León Viejo could be a key site for the development of historical archaeology in Central America, a region where the discipline is still in its infancy.

The region was densely populated before the conquest by Chorotega Indians, a farming society with a moderate hierarchical structure headed by an elected council of elders. The Spanish town was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who was sent from Panama by Pedrarias Dávila to conquer the Pacific zone northwards to Tezoatega. It developed, like many colonial towns in Latin America, round a central plaza, on the extreme north-east shore of what was to be called the Lake of León. Its role was to dominate the territory already conquered by the Spaniards and expand towards the Gulf of Fonseca and the mining zone of Olancho, as well as to Aguán on the Caribbean.

Despite its role as a provincial capital, León was never more than a relatively modest collection of rustic buildings, most of them in the same material as those used by the indigenous people: wood, bamboo and mud - mezquinas barracas (mean huts) in the contemptuous words of the Marqués de Lozoya.

Only the church, convents and houses of the governor and a handful of the richer citizens were more elaborate. The fortress, which was built at the beginning of the settlement, was allowed to fall into ruins within 20 years, indicating the extent of the pacification of the region. The Royal Foundry and Mint was also a substantial building, but constructed in the indigenous materials, which resulted in successive fires. The material needs of the inhabitants were well catered for, judging by the range of craftsmen working in the town from early in its history.

León reached its peak of development around 1545, during the governorship of Rodrigo de Contreras. It was still relatively small, its Spanish population not exceeding some 200. There was an eruption of the nearby volcano, Momotombo, in 1578, which combined with the raging inflation to drive the richer inhabitants away. By 1603 there were only 10 houses remaining, the others having been abandoned and allowed to fall into ruins. The final blow came on 11 January 1610, when a severe earthquake destroyed what was still standing. The city was taken to a site 'six leagues away', near the village of Subtiava.

The original layout of the town is not recorded and has so far not been reconstructed from archaeological data. It was certainly laid out on a regular grid pattern but it is unlikely to have been as large as contemporary towns such as Lima. Excavations carried out since the site was discovered in 1968 have uncovered the remains of a number of buildings, of which the following are the most important: the cathedral, with a central nave and a main altar at the eastern end reached by steps; the Convent of La Merced, which consists of five rooms enclosed by a tapia wall and connecting directly with the convent church; the Royal Foundry, one of the largest buildings in the town, consisting of 11 rooms; and several private houses, some of which can be assigned to a known inhabitant of the town.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description

Although detailed archaeological research has not been carried out on the site of what was to become the capital of the province of Nicaragua, the early Spanish chroniclers record that the region was densely populated before the conquest by Chorotega Indians, a farming society with a moderate hierarchical structure headed by an elected council of elders.

The Spanish town was founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who was sent from Panamá by Pedrarias Dávila to conquer the Pacific zone northwards to Tezoatega (now the village of El Viejo). It developed, like many colonial towns in Latin America, round a central plaza, on the extreme north-east shore of what was to be called the Lake of León. Its role was to dominate the territory already conquered by the Spaniards and expand towards the Gulf of Fonseca and the mining zone of Olancho, as well as to Aguán on the Caribbean.

Hernández de Córdoba did not enjoy his new capital for long, since he was executed on the orders of Pedrarias for treason in 1526. Pedrarias came to León as Governor of Nicaragua in 1528, the year which saw the first convent established, by Francisco de Bobadilla, and also a severe famine, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of the indigenous people. Their numbers were further depleted as a result of their being exported as slaves to Panamá and Perú in large numbers, one of the main activities of León. The end of this momentous year saw the creation of a mint by Royal command, "to process the gold and silver and other metals of this province," thus establishing the second pillar of the economy of the town. Both were productive of violence and demographic catastrophes during its short 86 years of existence. Despite its role as a provincial capital León was never more than a relatively modest collection of rustic buildings, most of them in the same material as those used by the indigenous people, wood, bamboo, and mud - mezquinas barracas (mean huts) in the contemptuous words of the Marquess of Lozoya. Only the church, the convents, and the houses of the governor and a handful of the richer citizens were more elaborate. The fortress that was built at the beginning of the settlement was allowed to fall into ruins within twenty years, indicating the extent of the pacification of the region. The Royal foundry and mint was also a substantial building, but constructed in the indigenous materials, which resulted in successive fires. The material needs of the inhabitants were well catered for, judging by the range of craftsmen working in the town from early on in its history.

León reached its peak of development around 1545, during the governorship of Rodrigo de Contreras. It was still relatively small, its Spanish population not exceeding some two hundred. The murder of Bishop Antonio de Valdivieso in 1550 seemed to mark a turning point in its fortunes: it was widely believed to have put a curse on the town, which suffered from both natural and economic disasters in the years that followed. There was an eruption of the nearby volcano, Momotombo, in 1578, which combined with the raging inflation to drive the richer inhabitants away. By 1603 there were only ten houses remaining, the others having been abandoned and allowed to fall into ruins. The final blow came on 11 January 1610, when a severe earthquake destroyed what was still standing. The decision was taken to move the city to a site six leagues away, near the village of Subtiava, that had already been under consideration for several years. It is recorded that the ruins of the old town were used as a ready source of building materials for the new settlement.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation