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The Catedral de la Asunción, which took 100 years to build and is easily the biggest church in Central America, is a must-see when visiting the city, and it dominates the town center. Three architectural styles grace its magnificent proportions -- colonial, neoclassical, and baroque. Rumors swirl around the question of why such a huge, majestic church was built in such a small city. Some think that the original architectural plans were swapped accidentally for the plans of Lima Cathedral. Others believe that the local clergy secretly elaborated on the plans after a much smaller version was approved by Spain. Whatever its origins, it was a huge undertaking. The original bishop who started the project was replaced by seven others before the cathedral finally held its first Mass in 1747.

Underground tunnels once linked the cathedral to the eight most important churches in the city, a cunning plan to thwart pirates. The original building was destroyed by rampaging Englishman William Dampier in 1685, and one statue of a black Christ still bears the hack wounds of a pirate's sword. Those same tunnels were appropriated by the city authorities in the last century and are now part of the city's sewage system.

The cathedral is home to some masterpieces of Spanish colonial art and acts as a kind of pantheon to some of Nicaragua's most famous national figures. Here, you'll find the Tomb of Rubén Darío, guarded by a weeping lion. You will also find other important figures, such as Alfonso Cortés, Salomón de la Selva, and Miguel Larreynaga. At the cathedral's center is a beautiful, Spanish-style courtyard known as the Patio de Príncipes. The cathedral's domed roof holds the bell La Libertad that announced to the world the independence of Central America from the Spanish empire. Be sure to inquire at Intur for a tour of the church's atmospheric, Gothic roof. With its lichen-stained cupolas and buttresses, it's a great photo opportunity, and of course, there is a good view of the surrounding city and countryside from there, too.