The Lost City of Gold: El Dorado
While the Europeans were drawn to the “New World” for a variety of reasons, one of the most compelling for these early explorers was the promise of unearthing a city of immense wealth and gold known as El Dorado.
The quest for this treasure would span the course of several centuries and involve hundreds of gold-hungry individuals. In the end, however, the mythical city of El Dorado would remain one of the New World’s most enduring mysteries.
The story of El Dorado is partly based in history, as the early 16th century Spanish explorers first landed on the shores of South America and learned about their new surroundings. In what is now Colombia, they heard stories of a remote tribe who upon the rise of a new chief would hold a ceremonial parade on the shores of Lake Guatavita.
The villagers believed a large sea monster lived within the depths of the lake, and to appease him, the new chief would ride out on a wooden raft, covered in gold dust and clutching countless precious jewels. When he reached the middle of the lake, he would throw the precious metals into the water and bathe from the gold dust.
The Spanish explorers soon came to refer to the chief as El Dorado- ‘the gilded one.’ Although the tradition had ended long before their arrival in the 15th century, the inventive Spaniards were determined to locate the lake and retrieve the sunken treasures from its dark depths.
In 1545, the Spaniards managed to draw up a scheme in which they were able to drain the lake. This involved hundreds of slaves removing water bucket by bucket, which over the span of several months only managed to lower the water level by a few feet. Unhappy with the small amount of gold they were able to retrieve from the shores, they abandoned the mission.
An Englishman named Sir Walter Raleigh in 1617 arrived in Colombia, determined to retrieve the sunken gold artifacts once and for all. He sent his son, Watt Raleigh, into the forest on a quest for the lost city. Walter stayed behind at a basecamp in Trinidad while Watt and the expedition paddled up the Orinoco River.
The expedition would come to face to face with Spaniards, resulting in a fierce and bloody battle that would result in Watt’s death. Upon the expedition’s return to Trinidad, they informed Sir Walter of his son’s death. Furious at the man who reported his son’s death, Walter accuses him of causing the death. Overcome with guilt and grief, the man goes into his cabin and takes his own life.
Sir Walter eventually returned to England, where he was quickly met with an arrest. His punishment would be beheading for, among other things, failing to avoid conflict with the Spanish as the King had ordered.
While many individuals have since attempted to retrieve the gold, no one has yet to be successful, leaving large treasure troves of jewels and precious metals for the taking for anyone who dares.