Most of us have probably heard the term of El Dorado, or the famous Golden City said to exist somewhere in South America.
But how much do we know about it, and what exactly is El Dorado? Is it a city? An empire? A continent? Does it even exist?
To understand it, we must travel back in time to Spanish Colonial times.
The King 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 the legend of El Dorado. This Muisca raft figure is on display in the Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 1.0
In this article, I’ve summed-up 25 of the most interesting details you should know about El Dorado.
El Dorado in Spanish means The Golden On. The Legend of the City of El Dorado can be traced back to a single man initially. And not an entire city as we’ve been led to believe.
The earliest reference to the name of El Dorado can be traced back to the 1500’s.
Originally, ‘El Dorado’ was, in fact, El Hombre Dorado, or the Golden Man—The Golden King.
This was the term used by Spanish Conquistadores to describe an alleged Tribal Chief—A Yipa—belonging to the Muisca people in modern-day Colombia.
The Muisca civilization is thought to have been as advanced as the Aztec, Maya, and Inca civilizations.
The Muisca civilization venerated Gold, not because of its value, but since gold, or the golden color represented the energy of the trinity of Chiminigagua, which constitutes the creative power of everything that exists.
Chiminichagua was the supreme being creator of the universe according to Muisca tradition.
As an initiation rite, this ruler covered himself in Gold dust and submerged himself in Lake Guatavita.
In the Muisca territories, there are many natural locations considered extremely sacred. These locations include lakes, rivers, forests and large rocks. People gathered here to perform rituals and sacrifices mostly with gold and precious stones. This is why many people believe that these natural formations that once belonged to the Muisca are filled with incalculable riches.
However, and as we’ve probably seen by now, everything changes over time, and so did the myth behind El Dorado.
The Legend morphed from a man into a golden city, to a kingdom, and finally to a Golden Empire which was so wealthy that everything was covered in gold.
After Spanish Conquistadores arrived in the American Continent, it was a well-known fact that the empires of the region, including Maya, Inca, Aztecs, etc., had in their possession great amounts of gold.
Therefore, when someone mentioned a city made of Gold—El Dorado—it wasn’t that hard to believe it was true, and that such a city could, in fact, be real.
The resulting El Dorado myth lured European explorers and treasure hunters for more than two centuries.
Rumors, myths, stories and legends fueled the interest of explorers and archeological expeditions.
In the 1500’s, people ventured out searching for a city called Manoa, which was another name used to refer to El Dorado. This city was located on the shores of a legendary lake in South America called Lake Parime.
Repeated tries to discover Lake Parime failed to confirm its existence until it was eventually rejected as a myth.
Two of the most notable expeditions to search for Manoa, aka El Dorado, were led by Sir Walter Raleigh—an English writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy, and explorer.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans who were still fascinated by the New World and its possible riches believed that not one, but several long-lost cities of immense wealth existed.
Another noteworthy expedition occurred between 1531 and 1538 when the German conquistadors Nikolaus Federmann and Georg von Speyer searched for El Dorado by exploring the Venezuelan lowlands, Colombian plateaus, Orinoco Basin and Llanos Orientales. As all other expeditions, they never reached El Dorado.
In 1536, Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada and his army of 800 men diverted from their original mission and set out in search for El Dorado. Their quest took them to the Muisca people. By 1538, the treasures of the Muisca people fell into the hands of the Spanish fighters.
In 1540, Gonzalo Pizarro, the younger half-brother of Francisco Pizarro received word of an immense valley filled with not only gold but cinnamon as well. Thousands of people searched for this legendary place. Eventually, Gonzalo Pizarro gave up the search after many of his explorers died. Despite this, he ordered Francisco de Orellana to continue the search. Eventually, he made it to the Atlantic Ocean without finding neither gold nor cinnamon. However, Francisco de Orellana’s expedition was credited with discovered the Amazon River—named after the female warriors who attacked them during their journey.
In 1560, Basque conquistadors Pedro de Ursúa and Lope de Aguirre journeyed down the Marañón and Amazon Rivers, in search of El Dorado
The quest for El Dorado resulted in several maps being printed showing the alleged city. This caused the legend to gain fame, making the matter worse.
People searched for El Dorado for nearly five hundred years, and despite no one ever finding any conclusive evidence of its existence, adventurers and explorers have continued searching for El Dorado in Modern Times.
Featured Image Credit: Gonzalo Golpe—A Concept about the famous city of gold of El Dorado.
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