The Mysterious Legend of El Dorado

Sara B
Photo byHistoric Mysteries

The legend of El Dorado led many conquistadors on a mission to be the first to discover it. El Dorado was believed to be a mystical city full of gold, including buildings made out of gold, and it was said to be located in South America.

The first reports of El Dorado began in the 16 and 17th centuries when the Spanish King heard a King in the jungles of South America was covered in Gold Dust. As the legend grew, many Europeans wanted to be the first to discover El Dorado.

1492 AD was said to be the first of many chapters in the new world and a clash of cultures. With confrontations of opposite living and systems of beliefs. The Europeans wanted to find the lost city of gold and exploit the new lands for the gold they thought they would find.

However, the South American myth of El Dorado only revealed the nature of the people living in South America and those who wanted to exploit the land for money.

The stories of El Dorado drew the Spanish conquistador Jimenez de Quesada and his army of 800 to South America in search of El Dorado and other conquistadors such as Gonzalo Pizarro.

The first story is about Jiminez de Quesada.

It is said he discovered Lake Guatavita, and he found large amounts of gold in and around the lake, which led to others wanting to come searching for gold. Many tried to drain Lake Guatavita, specifically in 1545, 1580, and 1898, but it was unsuccessful.

The last explorer to try was a British explorer named Hartley Knowles. He drained the lake almost 4 feet deep, but the mud at the bottom made it impossible to find any gold. Lake Guatavita is a National Heritage site, and it is illegal to search for gold or drain the lake. The second story is about Gonzalo Pizarro.

The story of Gonzalo Pizarro

In 1541, Pizarro went to South America in search of El Dorado. Pizarro asks his friend Fransisco De Orellana to come with him. They are told the gold was in another location, not the Andes mountains, but in the Amazon jungle.

They took around 4000 men into the jungle but did not find El Dorado. After traveling over 200 miles, over 140 conquistadors died, and they ran out of food. Instead, Pizarro sends De Orellana to travel down the river to look for food and bring it back.

Unfortunately, there is no way to return food to those who stayed in the jungle. Pizarro then begins to think his friend has betrayed him. However, De Orellana continues into the Amazon River, and they find tribes, who talk about tribes covered in gold and cities even bigger than they imagined.

As they continued down the river, eventually, native groups began to attack the Spanish. De Orellana's group finally reaches the Atlantic Ocean and has never found El Dorado.

Now, he is convinced that the city of El Dorado exists, and he tells everyone in Spain that if he gets what is needed for another exploration, he will find the city of El Dorado. He got all the necessary supplies and returned to South America on May 11, 1545.

De Orellana is convinced he will find El Dorado, but all goes differently than planned, as he starts with four ships and reaches Brazil with only two ships and less than 100 men. De Orellana gets lost in the Amazon. It was a disaster. Many of his men died in the jungle, and no city of El Dorado was ever found.

Rumors spread about De Orellana that he was a liar, and maybe it was a cover-up for abandoning his friend Pizarro.

The real story as believed by the Muisca cultures of Colombia

Yet for those living in South America, the legend of El Dorado was not a place; it was a ruler, a king, who was so rich that he would cover himself in gold dust each morning and wash it off in a sacred lake in the evening.

There is also a belief that the gold dust was only used during ceremonies on the sacred lakes, and at the end of the ceremony, the King would be himself in the lake.

The true story of El Dorado originates with the Muisca people who lived in Central Colombia from 800AD until the modern day. There is still a small population of the Muisca in Colombia.

According to historian Enrique Gonzalez, the real story involves a right of passage carried out by the Muisca people. When a leader died within the Muisca society, the succession process for the chosen ¨golden one¨ would unfold. The new leader was often a relative, a nephew, or a son of the previous leader.

The new leader would go through a long initiation process, and the final act would be going to the middle of a sacred lake on a raft, such as Lake Guatavita. The new leader would be surrounded by the four highest priests and covered in feathers, gold crows, and body ornaments.

The leader would be naked except for gold dust covering his body. He would then offer gold objects, emeralds, and other precious metals to the gods by throwing them into the lake.

Those who were present and watching would play music and burn fires, and the new leader's raft had fires burning all around him. Once the new leader reached the lake's center, he would raise a flag to silence the crowd. The crowd would then commit its allegiance to the new chief.

For the Muisca culture, gold, silver, copper, and emeralds were not wanted for their monetary value but for their spiritual powers and connection to the deities. They believed it would bring balance and harmony within the Muisca society.

"For the Muisca of today, just as for our ancestors, gold is nothing more than an offering... gold does not represent wealth to us."

A gold raft was discovered in 1969 in a small cave near Bogotá. Which confirmed what archaeologists believed was the real story of El Dorado.

The Europeans could not comprehend that the Muiscas did not see the monetary value in gold, which was ¨thrown into a lake¨. For the European conquerors, it was a sign of wealth, and they did not understand its factual significance within the Muiscas culture.

The search for El Dorado is still alive, and many Colombians have been said to have found gold from the Muisca culture. Archaeologists believe that looters have found, melted, and sold it; in 1970, the amount of gold found in Colombia caused the world gold market to crash.

Many gold pieces have been found and placed in Bogotás Museu del Oro and the British Museum in London. Yet the search for El Dorado continues.

In 2020, pictures from space showed something peculiar in the jungle near Bolivia. It appears as if they stumbled upon an illegal gold mining operation.

Now, there is a modern-day hunt for El Dorado, including a hunt in 2022 led by Heiko Prumers. Prumers is head of the German Archaeological Institute. They head to the Bolivian rainforest and do 3-D scanning of the area, and they find an ancient lost civilization. Pyramids, 60 feet high, with roads, and they determine that it was abandoned almost 500 years ago, around the same time the conquistadors arrived.

Geoglyphs and roads have also been found, which leads scientists to believe that De Orellana was telling the truth about El Dorado.

Yet this part of the Amazon is impossible to explore, and is said to be the size of India, and has never been explored. Many believe that El Dorado may still exist, as the legend states, as a city made of gold. It could be as the Muiscas thought, and El Dorado refers to a person, the leader, or it could still be a city made of gold deep in the Amazonian rainforest that has never been explored.

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I share legends, myths, and bizarre history, sometimes news.

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