León is situated on the León River, some 50 miles northwest of Managua, and some 11 miles north of the Pacific Ocean coast. Although less populous than Managua, León has long been the intellectual center of the nation, with the University founded here in 1813. León is also an important industrial and commercial center for Nicaragua.
The first city of León in Nicaragua was established in 1523 by Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba about 20 miles east of the present site; this old León was severly damaged by an eruption of the volcano Momotombo, and so the city was moved to its present location, which had been a Native American town named Subtiaba'.
When Nicaragua withdrew from the United States of Central America in 1839, León became the capital of the new nation of Nicagagua. For some years the capital shifted back and forth between León and Granada, Nicaragua, with Liberal regemes prefering León and Conservative ones Granada, until as a compromise Managua was agreed upon to be the permanent capital in 1858.
In 1950 the city of León had a population of 31,000 people.