Known as 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.
Imagined as a place, El Dorado became a kingdom, an empire, and a city of this legendary golden king. In pursuit of the legend, Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro departed from Quito in 1541 in an expedition towards the Amazon Basin, as a result of which Orellana became the first person known to have navigated the Amazon River along substantially its entire length.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans, still mystified by the New World, believed that a hidden city of immense wealth existed. Many searched for this treasure, in quests that ended in the loss of countless lives. The illustration of El Dorado's location on maps only made matters worse, as it made some people think that the city of El Dorado's existence had been confirmed.
In 1595 Sir Walter Raleigh set sail following one of the many old maps to El Dorado, aiming to reach Lake Parime in the highlands of Guyana (the supposed location of El Dorado at the time). He had set many goals for his expedition, and believed he had a genuine chance at finding the so-called city of gold. First, he wanted to find the mythical city of El Dorado, which he suspected to be an actual Indian city named Manoa. Second, he hoped to establish an English presence in the Southern Hemisphere that could compete with that of the Spanish. His third goal was to create an English settlement in the land called Guyana, and to try to reduce commerce between the natives and Spaniards.
Though Sir Walter Raleigh never found El Dorado, he was convinced that there was some fantastic city whose riches could be discovered. Finding gold on the riverbanks and in villages only strengthened his resolve.
In 1617, he returned to the New World on a second expedition, this time with his son, Watt Raleigh, to continue his quest for El Dorado. However, Sir Walter Raleigh, by now an old man, stayed behind in a camp on the island of Trinidad. Watt Raleigh was killed in a battle with Spaniards. Overall, the second expedition was a disaster. Upon Raleigh's return to England, King James ordered for him to be beheaded for disobeying orders to avoid conflict with the Spanish.
Some people say El Dorado is often misinterpreted as a mythical city of gold, actually referred to a ritual that took place at a lake near the modern day city of Bogota in Colombia where the new ruler of one of the native tribes was covered in powdered gold before diving into the water.
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.
The trouble with finding this mysterious city is largely due to exactly how knowledge of its existence came to be. We know the Spanish were invading the area, destroying and pillaging the Inca, Aztecs and Mayans in the process. Conquistadors searched the new world for gold, silver and jewels to bring back to Spain. They followed a strict Christian belief system which viewed acts of South American cultures to be works of evil, largely because these systems were misunderstood at the time. A number of theories suggest El Dorado might have been a distraction tactic by the Inca, to send the Spanish elsewhere, protecting Incan interests in the process. Others believe the mysterious lost city of gold could've been created by a Spaniard, in attempt to justify future visits to the Spanish government while detracting from what might have been considered a botched expedition. We know both ancient cultures in South America prized gold and accumulated vast amounts to appease the gods, and a large portion of this has been unaccounted for over the centuries. Is it possible thousands of gold artifacts were not seized by the Spanish, and perhaps hidden in a secret location we might consider as, the lost city of gold.