“El Dorado” is the legend of a hidden city in South America that is completely made of pure gold.
The term was used by the Spanish conquistadores to define a tribal chief of the Colombian indigenous group Muisca, who during rituals covered themselves with gold dust and then dove into a lake. This old Muisca tradition became the origin of the El Dorado legend. When Spanish explorers reached South America they heard stories about this tribe in the Andes Mountains in Colombia. The lust for gold in Europe gave rise to the enduring tale of a city of gold. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans still believed that somewhere in the New World there was a place of great wealth known as El Dorado. The legend led to several unsuccessful expeditions in the late 1500s in search for El Dorado. In the pursuit of the legend, Spanish conquistadors searched Colombia, Venezuela, parts of Guyana and northern Brazil for this city and its magnificent king. El Dorado shifted locations until finally it simply meant a source of untold treasures somewhere in the Americas.
The legend says that when a new chief rose to power, his rule began with a ceremony at Lake Guatavita (near Bogota). The new ruler was covered with gold dust and then he would dive into the lake, washing off the gold. Afterwards, trinkets, jewellery and ornaments made of gold and emeralds were thrown into the lake by worshipers to please the Guatavita goddess that lived in the middle of this sacred lake.
The ceremony of El Dorado supposedly ended in the late 15th century when the Muisca were conquered by another tribe. But the Spaniards had already found so much gold along the continent’s coast that they believed there had to be a place of great wealth in the inland too. The Spaniards never found El Dorado, but they did find Lake Guatavita and tried to drain it in 1545. They lowered its level enough to find hundreds of pieces of gold along the lake’s edge, but the supposed fabulous treasure in the deeper water was beyond their reach.
Nevertheless, El Dorado is still yet to be found. People say the legend still lives because “you want it to be true”, and some people never really stopped seeking it. In honour of the legend and the Muisca, the Bogotá Gold Museum recreated the ceremony in a special showroom as part of its exhibition of more than 6.000 pieces made of gold.