The Leon Cathedral, built between 1747 and 1814, was added to the list of World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) on June 28 2011. UNESCO said that Cathedral "expresses the transition from Baroque to Neoclassical architecture," adding that it is "characterized by the sobriety of its interior decoration and the abundance of natural light."
The church was designed by Guatemalan architect Diego Jose de Porres Esquivel. The World Heritage committee, with members from 21 countries, met in Paris between the 19th and 29th of June in Paris to decide which sites to add to the already existing 911 World Heritage sites around the world.
Vilma de la Rocha, director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture, said that for Nicaragua the recognition was very important and marked "a high point in the nation's cultural history." She noted that the Cathedral is the largest in Central America and is the burial place of poet Ruben Dario, known as the "prince of Castilian letters" and the father of the literary movement known as modernismo. Also buried in the Cathedral are poets Alfonso Cortes and Salomon de la Selva, composer Jose de la Cruz Mena, and independence hero Miguel Larreynaga. Rocha said that an application for the Leon Cathedral to be considered as a World Heritage Site had been submitted in 2006. She stated that Nicaraguan authorities must now work to guarantee the conservation of the site.
Leon Bishop Bosco Vivas declared July 24 to 31 as a week of celebration of the new declaration and called for cultural and religious activities to mark the achievement. He stated that the inclusion today of the Cathedral in the list of World Heritage Sites is only possible because of the work of the indigenous of the Leon region who labored for 113 years to build the church.
Roger Gurdian, president of the National Autonomous University, said, "Although the architecture of the Cathedral has a great deal of Spanish influence, indigenous and Creole hands built it. This reveals the mixture of the two races and represents for Central America the biggest and most significant temple built in the tropics." He explained that Leon was the first Catholic diocese of Central America and included Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador as well as Nicaragua.
Leon Mayor Manuel Calderon said, "This means that we have to accelerate investment in maintaining the basilica. This year we will bury the electric wires of the central park and the Cathedral. We have a budget for that from INTUR [the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute]." (El Nuevo Diario, June 28; Radio La Primerisima, June 28, 29; La Prensa, June 29 2011)