Plaza de la Revolución
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Managua’s Plaza de la Revolución, ostensibly just an open area, has become a living monument to the incessant bickering of Nicaragua’s political elite. Under Somoza, it was known as Plaza de la República. The rebel Sandinista movement assembled huge crowds there to manifest their outrage against the dictator, and upon overthrowing him, the Sandinista government renamed it Plaza de la Revolución.
Renowned Sandinista-hater President Alemán, upon taking power, was thus thrilled to punch a hole in the symbolic Sandinista chakra by building an audiovisual fountain in its center. So naturally when President Ortega returned to power in 2006 he wasted no time in demolishing Alemán’s fountain and holding political rallies and celebrations here.
Visit in the morning, when the breeze off the lake is cool, the trees are full of birds, and the traffic is momentarily silent.
South Side of the Plaza
On the south side of the Plaza, the Palacio Nacional de Cultura houses Nicaragua’s National Museum but at various times has also housed the Ministry of Housing, the treasury, the comptroller-general, and the National Congress. Sandinista commandos raided the building in 1978 and held the entire Congress hostage, winning international recognition and the liberation of several political prisoners. In addition to the national library, several murals and the Institute of Culture can be found here.
The first two floors of the old Gran Hotel (severely damaged by the quake in 1972) are now Managua’s official cultural museum—look for the murals around the outside. The building hosts art exhibits, concerts, puppet shows, and dances. The second floor holds studios of prominent Nicaraguan artists. The hallways are lined with striking black-and-white photographs of old Managua, pre- and post-earthquake and host handicraft fairs the first Saturday of each month. Sneak up to the roof to see how the upper floors of the old hotel were never replaced, yet another monument to the earthquake. There is a halfway decent café here as well, serving lunch only.
North Side of the Plaza
The Plaza de la Cultura República de Guatemala celebrates Guatemalan author Miguel Angel Asturias Rosales, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1967 for his colorful writings about national individuality and Native American traditions. He wrote frequently of the tyranny of dictators, the beauty and hostility of nature, and the struggle against domination by U.S. interests, themes with which the Sandinista government is sympathetic.
Parque Rubén Darío, dominated by a stark, white marble statue, is adjacent to the Parque Central and honors Nicaragua’s most-beloved poet. Built in 1933, it was restored in 1998 with the help of the Texaco Corporation. At the bottom of the hill, the marble and brass Teatro Rubén Darío was designed by the same architects that created New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. It was one of few surviving buildings in the 1972 earthquake and remains to this day a classy place to enjoy dance, theater, or musical presentations. Check the newspaper for performances, its website www.tnrubendario.gob.ni, or call 505/2266-3630 or 505/2228-4021 for upcoming events.
West Side of the Plaza
Set in the small green space of the Parque Central are several monuments of historical significance. An eternal flame guards the Tomb of Comandante Carlos Fonseca, father of the Sandinista revolution. Buried across from him is Santos Lopez, a member of General Sandino’s “crazy little army” in the 1930s, who helped train latter-day Sandinistas in the general’s ideology and the art of guerrilla warfare. The historical frieze that circles the Templo de la Música, a brightly painted gazebo, highlights the arrival of Columbus, Rafael Herrera fighting pirates, independence from Spain, Andrés Castro fighting William Walker, and more, but it’s just as interesting for the antics of the sparrows in its arches.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition