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El Dorado Legend | Gold in History and Culture

gold mask of el dorado
A golden mask representing the legend of El Dorado.

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.  


golden raft of el dorado
The golden raft of El Dorado.

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.


portrait of Jimenez de Quesada
Portrait of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada.

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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