León and Granada have been long-time rivals, fighting to be the political and spiritual center of Nicaragua. Walking through either of these cities it's easy to see why.Rustic colonial charm lines every street and culminates with every church and cathedral. These cathedrals and churches are among the oldest, largest and grandest we have seen on this trip.
The best way to showcase these rival cities is with a series of photos. You could spend weeks here, use up gigs of memory, and still not capture the full color of your surroundings.
Basilica of the Assumption
First up, the Basilica of the Assumption in Leon. This is the largest cathedral in Central America. Construction was started in 1747 and took 100 years to complete.
The original plan for building this cathedral was modest and much smaller. Fortunately, as soon as the church building was approved the Captain General of Guatemala switched the plans and created this work of art instead.
The church entrances are guarded by these ferocious-looking Lions. Below the church a series of tunnels link it with other nearby landmarks.
Across the street is the Chapel de la Asuncion, built in 1679 as a episcopal palace. In 1935 it was converted into a convent and school.
Iglesia La Merced
La Merced is home to León's patron Saint, La Virgen de La Merced. The original church was demolished in 1762 and rebuilt early in the 19th century.
Iglesia de la Recoleccion
The first stones were put in place in December of 1786. Iglesia de la Recoleccion is widely considered the most beautiful church in León.
The bright yellow stucco walls, with Mexican-style swirling columns, contain a series of bas-relief medallions that portray the life of Christ.
The inside of the church is equally as impressive, hosting mahogany columns and a ceiling decorated with harvest motifs.
Construction of this Gothic style church started in 1884 and was completed in 1934. It's easy to see why Iglesia Zaragoza is a popular location for filming vampire movies.
Iglesia de San Juan de Dios
This modest-looking church is next to a tree covered park that makes for a welcome escape from the scorching heat of the day.
Iglesia Dolce Novembre de Jesus el Calvario
This colorful church sits atop a hill overlooking León. Just inside the doors are full size replicas of the Crucifixion, with thieves on either side of Jesus.
The first stone of the Cathedral of Granada was set in 1523 on the site of an ancient mosque. It is a Spanish masterpiece of the renaissance style.
This cathedral has four chapels and a burial chamber that contains the tombs of Catholic kings.
Iglesia de La Merced
This church as been burnt down and destroyed on several occasions, the most recent restoration was done in 1862.
The public is allowed to climb the bell tower which offers the best view of Granada.
Restored in 1921, this stylishly painted church stands in front of a shaded park with the same name. The corners of this church hold statues of four guardian saints.
I'm not sure why the guidebooks say this church is dilapidated. Originally built in the 1700s, it was destroyed in the National War and then rebuilt in 1890. Due to its location it was used as a military fortress during colonial times.
Capila Maria Auxiliadora
This pastel high walled church dominates the neighborhood with its Gothic facade.
Convento San Francisco
Built in 1585 this is the oldest church in Central America. Guidebooks describe this church as pastel blue. Over the years the color has faded to the point where the church looks white.
Built in 1624, the strategic position of this church made it the Fortress Church. The walls still have scars from the battles between pirates and troops from Granada.