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The indigenous neighborhood of Subtiava (Maribio for “land of the big men”) retains a trace of both its cultural identity and political autonomy. Besides the thrill of walking the streets of a village predating Columbus, note several interesting ruins here.
Just about any of the microbuses that circulate through León will take you to Subtiava if you’re not up for the 12-block walk.
La Catedral de Subtiava
La Catedral de Subtiava, beautiful in its aged simplicity, is second only to the Catedral de León in size and is the keystone of the community. Construction began in 1698 and finished 12 years later, but the indigenous inhabitants of Subtiava kept worshiping their own gods despite Spanish proselytism.
In an effort to get the locals into the church, the Spanish mounted a carved wooden image of the sun representing the local god on the church ceiling of the church, a compromise that left everyone satisfied, even if, during a church service the Spanish and locals were simultaneously worshiping different gods.
The beautifully crafted sun remains, as do the immense wooden columns that evoke the kind of forest that surrounded León three hundred years ago. Next to the cathedral is the Casa Cural, which predates the cathedral of Subtiava by 160 years but was rebuilt in 1743.
Across the street from the cathedral on the north side is the Museo Adiact (open 8 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–noon Sat., $1–2 donation), a run-down but captivating museum that houses many of the area’s archaeological treasures. Sadly, some of the better idols and statues were stolen in the late 1980s and sold to foreign museums.
Five blocks east of the cathedral’s southern side is a small park dedicated to the last cacique of Subtiava, Adiact, and his daughter, Xochilt Acalt. From the cathedral of Subtiava, three blocks south and two blocks west is El Tamarindón, an enormous, gnarled tamarind tree from whose branches the Spanish hung the last cacique.
There are two sets of ruins in Subtiava, Las Ruinas de Veracruz (one block west of the cathedral, set in high weeds) and Las Ruinas de Santiago (one block north of the cathedral on the other side of Calle Central, look for a small sign). The church at Veracruz was Subtiava’s first, built sometime around 1560 and abandoned in the late 1700s due to its small size. The eruption of Volcán Cosigüina in 1835 caused its subsequent collapse. The church at Santiago, constructed in the early 1600s, is significant because its small square bell tower remains intact.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition