Managua ’s modern layout is the very embodiment of its history, in a tale that leads inexorably from the water’s edge in the direction of Masaya . Mana-huac (“the big water vessel”) has been inhabited since 4000 B.C.; you can see the footsteps of some of the earliest inhabitants in the Museum of the Footprints of Acahualinca  at the city’s western edge. The Nahuatls met the Spanish so fiercely there the Spanish retaliated by razing the city in the 15th century; the land remained abandoned another 300 years.
By the mid-1800s, when both León  and Granada  rivaled for political control of the nation, Managua was again a prosperous fishing village. The Conservatives and Liberals compromised by making Managua the capital, and the fishing village began to grow. But in 1931, by which time Managua was a small municipality of 10 square city blocks, an earthquake of 5.6 on the Richter scale leveled Managua and killed more than 1,000 people. For five years, Managuans rebuilt their city, only to see it consumed by flames in the Fire of 1936. Again, they rebuilt.
By the late 1960s, Managua was the most modern capital in Central America, home to nearly half a million inhabitants, with a modern center and two skyscrapers. But at 27 minutes past midnight on December 23, 1972, an earthquake of 6.3 on the Richter scale laid waste to the five square miles of the city. The quake killed 10,000 people, destroyed 50,000 homes, and reduced the city’s entire infrastructure to rubble. Managua was left without water, sewers, or electricity, hospitals lay in ruins, and the roads were choked with debris.
This was a disaster from which Managua  has never quite recovered, as little of the initial material aid arrived at its intended destination. President Anastasio Somoza Debayle saw to it that humanitarian assistance channeled through the “emergency committee” under his control ended up in his personal bank accounts. For Nicaraguans who’d lost everything, being forced to purchase donated relief items from the National Guard was the last straw: The revolution would fully erupt only seven years later.
Today, the ruins of old Managua have been largely left to rot at the south shore of Lake Xolotlán, a depressing reminder of the city’s glory years. The old cathedral  and several other buildings still remain standing, though squatters occupy the derelict buildings that were not cleared away.
But the Sandinista Revolution brought destruction, not healing, to the capital. Managua bore the brunt of the Revolution’s final battles. As the Sandinistas advanced, Somoza began bombing his own capital, concentrating his ire on the barrios of Riguera and El Dorado. Managua remained wrecked throughout Somoza’s war against the Sandinistas. And once the Sandinistas took power, fighting the Contras left no money to rebuild Managua according to any sort of plan. It was during this time Managuans shoveled themselves out, and the city began to grow organically, forming the twisting, homogenous neighborhoods of small houses and shanties that make Managua so difficult for foreigners to decipher today.
The end of the Sandinista era brought new investment capital and new opportunities and since 1990 Managua has grown quickly and impressively. But rather than risk rebuilding in the seismic zone, new, up-scale establishments stretch down the city’s outskirts in the direction of Masaya , where they now form the city’s Zona Rosa.