The lovely blue-marble and cream-stucco exterior of the Palacio Nacional, on the south side of the plaza, holds a darker history. During the long years of Somoza rule the columned building was the seat of government power: Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez called it “el partenón bananero” – the banana parthenon. Then, on August 22, 1978, Sandinista commandos disguised as National Guard soldiers ran through its corridors to capture the deputies of the National Assembly, a cinematic coup d’état that effectively brought down the Somoza dictatorship.
Today, the Palacio, still a functioning government building, also houses the national library and archives, while the ground floor intersperses small, relaxing gardens with a museum and art gallery. There’s a good display of Nicaraguan handicrafts, colourful murals and large sculptures, plus a few pre-Columbian artefacts. The museum frequently holds dance, poetry and artesanía events; ask at reception.