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For hundreds of years, treasure hunters and historians alike have searched for El Dorado, the lost city of gold. The idea of a city filled with gold and other riches has a natural appeal, drawing the attention of individuals from all over the world in hopes of discovering the ultimate treasure, and an ancient wonder. In spite of numerous expeditions around all of Latin America, the city of gold remains a legend, with no physical evidence to substantiate its existence.
The origins of El Dorado come from legendary tales of the Muisca tribe. Following two migrations – one in 1270 BC and one between 800 and 500 BC, the Muisca tribe occupied the Cundinamarca and Boyacá areas of Colombia. According to legend, as written in Juan Rodriguez Freyle’s “El Carnero,” the Muisca practiced a ritual for every newly appointed king that involved gold dust and other precious treasures.

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When a new leader was appointed, many rituals would take place before he took his role as king. During one of these rituals, the new king would be brought to Lake Guatavita, where he would be stripped naked, and covered in gold dust. He would be placed upon a highly decorated raft, along with his attendants, and piles of gold and precious stones. The raft would be sent out to the center of the lake, where the king would wash the gold dust from his body, as his attendants would throw the pieces of gold and precious stones into the lake. This ritual was intended as a sacrifice to the Muisca's god. To the Muisca, “El Dorado” was not a city, but the king at the center of this ritual, also called “the Gilded One.” While El Dorado is meant to refer to the Gilded One, the name has now become synonymous with the lost city of gold, and any other place where one can quickly obtain wealth.

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.

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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.


Many European expeditions were led in search of El Dorado. The Spanish government became so enamored with the reports of abundant gold in the northern regions of South America, they wanted to gather as much of the sacred material as they could, to melt down and send back to Spain. Yet, the Spanish weren’t the first to seek the mythical lost city. From 1531 to 1538, German explorers, Georg von Speyer and Nikolaus Federmann searched current day Venezuela and Columbia for El Dorado, but were unsuccessful.

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Spanish conquistador, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, discovered Lake Guatavita and the rituals of the Muisca tribe in 1537. Quesada, and the explorers that followed, surmised a fortune in gold lay at the bottom of the lake, after witnessing or hearing of the elaborate offerings made by the locals. In 1545, explorers Lázaro Fonte and Hernán Perez de Quesada attempted to drain Lake Guatavita to access the treasures hidden in its depths. The method they employed entailed a row of men using buckets to drain the water. They managed to drop the level of the lake by three meters, authors cite, but that was not low enough. The men could only retrieve a few golden treasures from the outer rim of the lake and couldn’t access the center, where they believed the bulk of the golden offerings lay. In 1580, Antonio de Sepúlveda attempted the same feat, but was also unsuccessful. De Sepúlveda sliced away a section of the lake’s rim in order to drain the water, but his experiment killed many of his laborers, when the lake wall collapsed on them.

In 1595, English writer and explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh, set out to find El Dorado. By that period, Lake Parime in Guyana was believed to be the site of the lost city. He did not find what he was looking for, but returned on a second expedition in 1617 to try again. He brought his son with on his second attempt and, unfortunately, his son was killed in a battle with the Spanish. Raleigh’s misfortune did not end there. On his return to England, he was put to death for violating the peace treaty with Spain! Lake Parime was labelled El Dorado on English maps until the theory was disproved by a Prussian explorer, more than 150 years later.

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Differing belief systems frequently result in the destruction of a culture or religion. Greed has led to the ancient, spiritual treasures of the Columbian people being plundered from their land. Sadly, these sacred artifacts were often melted down and appreciated merely for their material worth or their weight in gold.
Supposedly there is a still undiscovered golden phallus that is magical and weighs 45 lbs of pure gold.