Legends and Myths of El Dorado



El Dorado became the name of a legendary "Lost City of Gold”, which fascinated explorers since the days of the Spanish Conquistadors. No evidence for its existence has ever been found.

The legend of El Dorado was about a fabulously wealthy city of gold and the king who ruled over it. The story sprang up shortly after the first Spanish explorers landed in Central and South America. Discovering it would fulfill mankind's long held dreams of getting rich with minimal effort. The gold fever was fueled by the travel narratives which were avidly bought and read by an interested European audience. Attempts to reach El Dorado soon followed 
 
El Dorado became a dream; a city, personage or kingdom, it always lay beyond the next range of mountains, or deep in the unexplored forests. El Dorado was fabled for its great wealth of gold and precious jewels and eagerly sought by 16th- and 17th-century explorers. The conquistadors of Venezuela and New Granada—Federmann, Enalcázar, and Jiménez de Quesada all searched for El Dorado. Perhaps best known to English-speaking peoples is the expedition of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595. Like so many of the Spanish and German explorers before him, Raleigh's attempt to locate El Dorado cost him his life; he was executed in 1618 after a second unsuccessful voyage to Guiana in search of the land of gold yielded little.

Other places mentioned in stories were Paititi, a land of gold located in Paraguay, and the City of the Ceasars, an invisible golden city in Chile. Several bloody expeditions were launched to find these imaginary kingdoms. One of the most tragic was led by a rebel soldier named Lope de Aguirre, a brutal madman who proclaimed himself king and was murdered by one of his followers.

The location of the mythical land shifted as new regions were explored, and similar legends appeared in the Southwestern United States and Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca told of the Seven Cities of Cibola; interest in these treasure-laden cities reached a peak with the stories of Fray Marcos de Niz and culminated in a tremendous but fruitless expedition under Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. 

Guatavita, the lake of gold in Colombia, holds the secret of Eldorado. The legend of Guatavita says that the heir of the chief (Cacique) covered his body with gold dust, and then sailed out on a raft made of gold to the centre of the lake, to cast solid gold offerings into the water for the gods. When he finished doing that, he would then dive in and wash himself in the chilly water. This is the way that each new “cacique” was “inaugurated into office”. The Spaniards were likely convinced the legend was real because it was the practice of some native tribes to adorn their bodies with gold dust. As the tale spread, the city he ruled came to be called El Dorado. Eventually, the meaning of the name changed to include any mythical region that contained great riches.
      
      "He went about all covered with powdered gold, as casually as if it were powdered salt. 
       For it seemed to him that to wear any other finery was less beautiful, and that to put 
       on ornaments or arms made of gold worked by hammering, stamping, or by other
       means was a vulgar and common thing." Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, 1535-48 
 
Twice in the sixteenth century and again in 1801 and 1898, Spanish, French, and British treasure hunters attempted to drain Lake Guatavita in hopes of finding great treasures at the bottom of the lake. Besides a few tantalizing finds, these attempts always ended in bankruptcy. 


Today it can be difficult to comprehend why European explorers would have believed that El Dorado could exist in any of its variations, either as an Indian chief who covered his body with gold each day, as a ceremonial lake into which gold was thrown in religious or political ceremonies, or as a vast kingdom where gold was so common that it was used as ordinary jewelry and even to construct houses. 

To prove that a legend transcended the sphere of the fantastic, all that needs to be done is to leave Bogota Columbia by the Autopista Norte or the road to La Calera, and visit the sacred Guatavita Lake, the site of the legend of El Dorado, the legend that attracted the Spanish conquistadors to this land in the sixteenth century. http://www.colombia.travel/en/ 
     

NOTE:

1) It turns out El Dorado was a real thing, just not at all what the Spaniards thought. The whole legend was based on a Muisca tribal ceremony where they covered a new chieftain in gold dust. The Spaniards heard them talking about a golden person and made the natural assumption that he must be from a golden city,
2) El Dorado made its way into literature. In Candide, a novel by the French writer Voltaire, the main character accidentally discovers the rich city. Edgar Allan Poe's poem El Dorado refers to the legend, as does Paradise Lost by English poet John Milton. Movie makers in particular have been fascinated by the legend: as recently as 2010 a movie was made about a modern-day scholar who finds clues to the lost city of El Dorado.
3) The other noteworthy attempt was made as recently as 1911 by Contractors, a British company owned and operated by Hartley Knowles, an English engineer. By means of a tunnel, Knowles successfully drained the lake and is said to have recovered gold, emeralds, amber and even Chinese jade from the sides of the lake. Speaking to a journalist from The New York Times, in 1912, Knowles claimed that he had recovered treasure worth around $20 000. 
4) The real City of Gold is Paititi.  In brief, the Spanish had been at war with the Incas of Peru for nearly forty years and the Incas had retreated to Vilcabamba Valley where they held off the invaders until 1572.  When the Spanish conquered the Incas they found the city largely deserted. It appeared as if the Incas had fled to a new location in the rain forests of southern Brazil taking their vast treasure of gold with them. The new city was never found nor was the gold and eventually the story was relegated to the status of a myth.
 

PHOTOS:

1) The Zipa used to cover his body in gold dust and, from his raft, he
offered treasures to the Guatavita goddess in the middle of the sacred
lake. This old Muisca tradition became the origin of El Dorado legend.
This model is on display in the Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia
2)  El Dorado, the famous ancient Mesoamerican city of gold and
immeasurable riches, is the ultimate hidden treasure.
3) Treasure: Lost City and Gold of Paititi Lost:1572 - Current Est.
Value: $10,000,000,000 Incan gold & artifacts, gold bars, jewellery,
etc.