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The Real Story Of El Dorado

Updated June 13, 2018 38.9k views13 items

Mutiny, beheading, malaria, and horse-eating are just a few of the things Europeans subjected themselves to during their bloody search for El Dorado. With no evidence other than hearsay incorrectly based on one indigenous worship ritual, 16th-century conquistadors trampled through South America, killing and subjugating the indigenous Muisca people in their chase of a myth of a gold-plated city that never proved real.

The closest thing to El Dorado turned out to be a lake in Colombia which was the site of religious rituals involving gold offerings. The City of Gold did not exist, but the cost to prove that was a steep and tragic one.

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  • Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Germans Lost Hundreds Of Men In A Second Attempt To Find El Dorado

    After Ambrosius Ehinger’s spectacular failure, he and one of the members of the original expedition, Georg von Speyer, set off into the interior of southwestern Venezuela and northern Colombia in another attempt to find El Dorado in 1535. For four years they trooped through hostile indigenous settlements, got heat stroke, and dealt with mutinies. Von Speyer started out with nearly 2,000 men and returned in 1539 with just 80, having again failed to find El Dorado.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Spanish Stumbled Upon On Lake Guatavita

    As Germans quested after El Dorado, rumors also circulated among various other colonial powers about a sacred lake in South America and native rituals involving a lot of gold. In 1537, a Spanish conquistador named Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada first saw both the Muisca people and Lake Guatavita while roaming the highlands of the Andes. He was looking for gold but not, supposedly, on a specific quest for El Dorado. However, his accidental discovery changed the lives of the Muisca forever. Finding the lake was no small feat: indigenous people, attempting to throw the Spaniards off the scent of gold, often pointed to far away places when the Spanish asked to be shown to El Dorado.

  • Photo: Lucas Fernandez de Piedrahita / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Spanish Conquered The Muisca People In Their Search For El Dorado

    After "discovering" Lake Guatavita, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada led the Spanish to conquer the southern Muisca between 1537-1538. Captives told them about the zipa rituals, and the Spanish managed to extract a great deal of gold items from the Muisca as well as surrounding indigenous groups. The amount of gold they stole enhanced the legend of Lake Guatavita, further bolstering Spanish interest in a literal city of gold. They assumed it was nearby, and sent more expeditions after the elusive treasure.

  • Photo: Ximénex / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    On One Of The Most Famous Quests For El Dorado, Spanish Conquistadors Encountered Warrior Women

    Francisco Pizarro, who led the toppling of the Inca Empire in Peru, had a younger half-brother named Gonzalo, who became Spain's governor of Quito, Ecuador, in 1541. Gonzalo mounted a crew of nearly 4,500 people to search for El Dorado, including lieutenant Francisco de Orellana. They didn't find gold and ultimately parted ways, and Orellana continued his journey down what is now known as the Amazon River.

    Orellana and his group came upon a group of indigenous female warriors. Orellana decided they were the Amazons, those European-perceived, mythological women as fierce and tall as men. He dubbed the river the Amazon. However, though he continued to traverse hundreds of miles of South American waterways, he did not discover El Dorado.