Gold In History & Culture
The source of the legend of El Dorado, or the Golden Man, is attributed to the Muisca (Chibcha) Indians, indigenous people of Columbia. The Muisca were agriculturalists with the technological know-how to melt and cast gold and copper ornaments, mine emeralds, weave textiles, and make pottery.
The El Dorado legend was built around a Muisca ceremony, also partly legendary, in which the king, or high priest, was covered with gold dust and then washed in a sacred lake at sunrise. The ceremony purportedly took place at Lake Guatavita, which is located high in the Andes about 50 kilometers north of Bogotá.
The El Dorado myth began in the 1530s, when conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada first encountered the Muisca. With time, the story grew and evolved until El Dorado became a fabulous city with streets paved in gold.
The indigenous Muisca might have embellished their own accounts of El Dorado because it encouraged the Europeans to leave their communities and press onward in their quest to find the fabulous city of gold. The legend of El Dorado tantalized European explorers for more than a century, and continues to be of intrigue today.
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