Situated on the western lowlands of Nicaragua, Managua is the country’s capital and home to a third of the nation’s population. Located on the southern coast of Lake Managua, the city is 45 km from the Pacific Ocean. At only 50 m. above sea level, Managua is Central America’s hottest capital. The city is flanked by volcanoes limiting its expansion to the west.
What is now Managua was inhabited by Amerindians before the arrival of the Conquistadors in 1524. Evidence exists of pre-historic habitation more than 6,000 years ago. After colonization, Managua remained an inconsequential village between León and Granada. Soon after independence from Spanish rule, there was intense rivalry between León and Granada for the capital status. After Granada was destroyed by American mercenaries led by William Walker, Managua was chosen as compromise capital in 1857.
After destructive floods in 1876 and 1885 slowed development, progress was again halted by volcanic eruptions in 1932 and 1972. Nearly all the city centre was destroyed and has not been rebuilt. The few remaining buildings include the Hotel Intercontinental, the national theatre and the Government House and the National Palace. Managua’s reconstruction was focused on urban development on the city’s outskirts, especially towards the south. Foreign aid sent after the disaster was appropriated by the Somoza dictatorship. From the 1950s onwards, the capital’s population expanded dramatically, growing 15-fold over the next 40 years. Many people came to the capital fleeing rural poverty and political violence. Half of Managua’s inhabitants live in poverty (less than the national average) and many homes lack basic amenities such as water or sanitation.
Industries include metallurgy, textiles and oil refining, although on a relatively low scale. The surrounding area is agricultural and produces mainly cotton, coffee and maize. The Cesar Augusto Sandino International Airport is situated 12 km east of Managua.
Murals and slogans, once an integral part of post-dictatorial Managua, are beginning to be painted over. Even the Plaza de la Revolución, with the tomb of the Sandanista leader Carlos Fonseca at its centre, has been renamed the Plaza de la República. Some of the destroyed city centre has been turned into parks. One new building in the area is the conference centre, el Centro de Convención Olof Palme, opened in the 1980s.
Places of Interest
The ruins of the Catedral Santo Domingo stand next to the Palacio Nacional in the Plaza de la República, a new version having been constructed away from the centre. Las Huellas de Acahualinca displays the footprints of humans and animals escaping an erupting volcano moulded into lava over 6,000 years ago. Other archaeological displays date from more recent Nicaraguan history (circa AD 400). Three other museums, El Museo de la Revolución, Julio Cortázar Museo de Arte Contemporanza and El Museo de Alfabetazzación are closed owing to financial cutbacks. On the shore of Lake Managua a theatre and statue are devoted to Nicaragua’s most famous poet, Rubén Dario. Most markets were destroyed during the earthquake. The new Mercado Huembes specializes in crafts and ceramics. The Tiscapa Volcano (La Loma), next to the lake, offers a view of the city and the surrounding volcanoes. Managua has two major festivals, the Festival de Música y Juventud takes place in Feb. and the Fiestas Agostinas are celebrated in Aug. 23 km southeast of Managua in the Volcán Masaya National Park.