Antiguo Convento San Francisco and its trio of bells (one block north and two east of the main cathedral , tel. 505/2552-5535, open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–4 p.m. weekends, $2) were once famously blue. Inside, set around open courtyards festooned with palm trees are centuries’ worth of priceless artwork, and 30 alter-ego statues collected a century ago from Zapatera Island .
The carved basalt shows human forms with the heads of jaguars, birds, and crocodiles whose spirits were thought to flow through humans’ souls—a rare look into the cosmology of Nicaragua’s pre-Columbian peoples. There is also a large to-scale replica of Granada , and exhibits that represent the lifestyle of the Chorotega and Nahautl peoples.
The convent was first built by Franciscan monks in 1529 and lasted 150 years before pirate Henry Morgan burned it to the ground. Since then it has housed William Walker’s troops, U.S. Marines, a contingent of engineers surveying a possible canal route in the 1920s, and the National University.