Legend of El Dorado leads to sacred lake
after the discovery of the New World, stories began circulating throughout
Europe about the existence of a legendary city of gold in the Andes.
riches awaited whoever was bold enough and lucky enough to find the fabled city
called El Dorado.
search for El Dorado
became a quest for many bored young conquistadors in search of glory and
adventure. Most perished in the jungles or mountains without ever realizing that
El Dorado was
not a city, but a man.
legend of El Dorado
first reached the Old World through the Spanish who followed Christopher
Columbus to Central America.
Wherever they went, soldiers under Balboa and other explorers heard fascinating
tales about the legendary city of gold.
they plundered their way into South America, Spaniards and other Europeans were
thrilled by the promise of great riches. Exaggerated accounts of El
Dorado handed down by the sun-worshipping Chibeha
Indians who lived in the
8,600-foot-foot high plateaus near present-day Bogota fired their imagination.
The Chibeha tribe, it was said, venerated gold as the sun god's metal. They
wore golden ornaments and for centuries had covered their buildings with sheets
of the precious metal.
Indians spoke of a holy lake full of gold. Others told of meeting a golden
chieftain in a city called Omagua.
tales spread, El Dorado
came to be thought of as a city of gold; it was even shown on ancient maps of Brazil and the Guianas, though its location was vague.
1530s the Germans and Spaniards sent several expeditions into what is now Colombia to seek El
Dorado. But the mountains
were nearly impassible, and they were forced to turn back when they ran out of
than half the men were killed in skirmishes with Indians, and all the
expeditions came to grief.
the legend of the fabulous city still tantalized fortune hunters, and the very
words constantly on their lips, "El Dorado,"
became synonymous with "The
Golden Place" and its
true meaning -- "The
Gilded One" -- was
The Chibchas worshiped not only the sun but also a being who was said to
live in the lake. Some said it was the wife of a chief who had thrown herself
into its waters centuries ago to escape a dreadful punishment and had survived
there as a goddess.
made pilgrimages to present offerings to the goddess of the lake, and at least
once a year the lake became the center of an elaborate ceremony.
tribesmen would smear their chief with sticky resin and blow gold dust over him
until he glistened from head to foot, literally an El
Dorado. Then he was conducted in a magnificent procession to a raft
on the edge of the lake. The raft was towed to the middle of the sacred Lake
Guatavita. Plunging into the
icy water, the chief rinsed the gold off his body while the others cast
priceless offerings of gold and emeralds.
story of El Dorado
did not end with the conquistadors. Explorers in the 17th, 18th and 19th
centuries, including the great Prussian natural scientist and traveler Alexander von Humboldt, also sought the fabled treasure.
trace of El Dorado
was found until 1969 when two farm workers dug up an exquisite model raft made
of solid gold in a small cave near Bogota. On board the raft were eight tiny oarsmen-rowing with their
backs to the regal golden figure of their chief.
Guatavita still refuses to
yield its golden treasures.
some gold and emeralds were found in the muddy banks, the icy depths of the lake
were never plumbed. So far as is known, the offerings to El
Dorado -- the Gilded One -- are still at the bottom of the sacred
Floyd is a syndicated writer living in Augusta
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