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The Legend of El Dorado

el dorado 1

The legendary lost city of gold, El Dorado legend originated in the Muisca territory from Spaniards who were told of a ritual at Lake Guatavita where treasures were thrown into the lake as offerings for the new king. Attempts to drain the lake for unimaginable wealth took place until finally abandoned after many of the workers died and, no treasure was ever discovered. Stories then developed over the ages transforming the idea of discarded wealth at the bottom of a lake into an entire lost city of gold according to some theorists. El Dorado became a fixation for many explorers, some who lost their own lives in pursuit of an epic treasure.

Recent satellite technology might actually be changing the notion of El Dorado altogether, transforming it from a mythical city of legend into a very real location. A discovery of over 200 earthen works found near Brazil's Bolivian border are thought to be in a promising location for the lost city of gold. The earthworks hint at an extremely sophisticated civilization inhabiting the area between 200-1283 CE. This ancient city's inhabitants are currently unknown yet the specific location, building configuration, and architecture resemble descriptions often referred to by El Dorado hunters. Explorers continue to scour remote areas of South and Central America in hopes of discovering the lost city, using ancient texts and local legends to help guide them to the right destination.

el dorado

The trouble with finding this mysterious city is largely due to exactly how knowledge of its existence came to be. We know the Spanish were invading the area, destroying and pillaging the Inca, Aztecs and Mayans in the process. Conquistadors searched the new world for gold, silver and jewels to bring back to Spain. They followed a strict Christian belief system which viewed acts of South American cultures to be works of evil, largely because these systems were misunderstood at the time. A number of theories suggest El Dorado might have been a distraction tactic by the Inca, to send the Spanish elsewhere, protecting Incan interests in the process. Others believe the mysterious lost city of gold could've been created by a Spaniard, in attempt to justify future visits to the Spanish government while detracting from what might have been considered a botched expedition. We know both ancient cultures in South America prized gold and accumulated vast amounts to appease the gods, and a large portion of this has been unaccounted for over the centuries. Is it possible thousands of gold artifacts were not seized by the Spanish, and perhaps hidden in a secret location we might consider as, the lost city of gold?

Since the legend began in the 1500s, thousands of people have attempted to locate this city of gold in various locations throughout Latin America. Where does the legend of El Dorado come from, and what have these searches uncovered?

Research and ancient texts reveal that El Dorado was never originally considered a city of gold at all. The Muisca tribe of central Columbia has been known to exist since 800AD. For them El Dorado, “the gilded one,” represented their tribal chief. Archeological evidence and Spanish accounts of the stories indicate that during initiation ceremonies their chiefs would be covered in gold dust and taken to the center of Lake Guatavita on a raft. Once in the center he would throw precious items made of gold and gems as an offering to the gods. Other accounts of the story say that he would submerse himself in the lake along with the golden treasure. This would appease the gods, and the Muisca believed they would then be granted balance and harmony in their environment and within the tribe. Spanish explorers heard of these stories, and were led by their greed. The seductive tale of El Dorado would eventually become generically known as any undiscovered place filled with treasure somewhere in the Americas.

muisca raft legend of el dorado

Interestingly, in 1545 Spaniards attempted to drain Lake Guatavita. They removed a significant amount of gold, but could not reach the trove that supposedly existed in the deepest parts of the lake.

In the 1500s many other explorers claimed they found El Dorado. It was once thought that Sir Walter Raleigh had found it at the end of the 1500s. It was marked on English maps and described as a location in the north. This location was thought to be significant until the 1800s, when Alexander von Humbolt proved otherwise during his own exploration of South America.

While the legend of El Dorado originated in Colombia, the idea of the existence of a treasure-filled place exists in Peru. This legend describes the sack of Cusco, and how Francisco Pizzaro looted the Incan city of its gold. However, the Incas had months of preparation before Pizarro’s sack to squirrel away their treasures. These treasures included golden mummies of previous Incan leaders. They were rumored to be hidden in the network of ancient mazes that run underneath Peru and Ecuador. When Pizarro went to sack Cusco many artifacts that were thought to be there were not found. Pizzaro and his men were unable to locate the missing gold, mummies, and artifacts, despite explorations into the Incan tunnels.

One present day attempt to find El Dorado took place in 2000, when the Monastery of Santo Domingo searched for underground Incan tunnels. Nothing concrete was found, but interestingly, radar had revealed what appeared to be an entrance to a large tunnel underneath the Monastery. Another recent attempt at finding and debunking the myth of El Dorado came in 2001. A document dating back to the 1600s was discovered by the Italian archaeologist Mario Polia, describing a city that could be El Dorado located in an area known as Paratoari in Peru. From the air it seems as though there may be man-made structures there, and tools have been found in the area suggesting the remains of a civilization. However, El Dorado is still yet to be found. Further voyages into the Paratoari area are difficult due to the terrain, and this makes the hunt for El Dorado costly, too costly to chase a legend.

 

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