The legend of El Dorado, the lost city of gold, has its roots in the 16th Century. European discoverers believed that there was a city made completely of gold that existed somewhere in the New World. This legend probably rose from stories of a ceremony for inducting a new tribal chief during which they were covered in gold dust. Gold and jewels were then thrown into a lake as a tribute to a God that lived under water. The explorers found so much gold near to the coast of South America where they landed, that it seemed logical that there would be more treasures to be found inland. This lake is likely to have been Lake Guatavitá, which was dredged by the explorers. However, it did not contain as much gold as they were hoping for, and therefore they concluded that El Dorado must be located somewhere else.

What the lost city of El Dorado could have looked like...

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Lake Parime (Parime Lacus) on a map by Hessel Gerritsz (1625). Situated at the west coast of the lake, the so-called city of Manõa or El Dorado.
Lake Parime (Parime Lacus) on a map by Hessel Gerritsz (1625). Situated at the west coast of the lake, the so-called city of Manõa or El Dorado.

Thousands of men set off to the New World in the years following its discovery, many prompted by the myths that they had heard about El Dorado, and the promise it held to make them rich behind their wildest dreams. Some of these men were quite ruthless and would do anything to find the city, including killing any natives that may have gotten in their way. Very few of them made the fortune that they were hoping for though, and people were actually more likely to be killed while on the mission than they were to ever find the lost city. One of the most famous victims of the search was the English explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh. His son was killed on the expedition that they were on, during a battle with the Spanish. Raleigh was under strict orders from King James I not to enter into any conflict with the Spanish and was executed for disobeying these orders on his return to England.

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