El Dorado; the Myth and Reality - the Search for Unimaginable Riches

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The legend of El Dorado who would not want to embark on a journey to find a city that is built solely out of gold and bathes him or herself in extreme wealth? Many films, such as Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (2008) or The Road to El Dorado (2000) and books have used this particular legend as ultimate treasure. There are several mythical locations or sites that can be compared to El Dorado, such as Troy, the city that was besieged by the Ancient Greek and fell to cunning idea of one of the Greek generals, or the city of Atlantis that sank into the ocean in a single day and night of misfortune or some neighboring equivalents as Omagua, the Land of Cinnamon, or the golden land of Manoa. But what is the actual legend of El Dorado? According to the traveller Juan Rodriguez Freyle, who wrote El Carnero: Conquista y descubrimiento del Nuevo Reino de Granada, the Muisca, a tribe who were to be found in what we know as the central highlands of present-day Colombia, appointed each year a chieftain and rolled him in gold, which he then ceremonially washed off in the sacred lake of Guatavita, casting offerings of emeralds and gold into the waters at the same time. This custom had apparently disappeared long before the coming of the conquistadors, but the tales lived on and grew into a legend of a land of gold and plenty. What started as story about a single person covered in gold, which was recorded in 1531 when Diego de Ordaz’s lieutenant Martinez encountered El Dorado himself, by the time Pedro de Ursdias initiated an expedition in 1559 to search for El Dorado, it had become a golden land rather than Martinez’s golden man. Diego de Ordaz and Pedro de Ursdias being both explorers under the Spanish flag, embodies the mental picture of wandering coquistadors. It is quite simple to imagine that in the period of the first landings in what we call South America nowadays, legends such as the one of El Dorado inspired people to initiate expeditions in search of this majestic land. How is it possible that an actual recording of an encounter evolved into a land of unimaginable riches and gold in less than three decades? And has the search for El Dorado come to an end in this modern time where scientists can scan the earth’s surface with the help of satellites and air photography, and where practically nothing is a secret anymore thanks to the World Wide Web? Or can the term El Dorado be used as a metaphor for modern fortune seekers in different layers of the population?

When hearing about a quest for El Dorado, nine out of ten people imagine Spanish conquistadors trying to survive in the Amazonian wilderness, being empowered by the thought of extreme wealth that awaits them if they were to find the legendary land of El Dorado. Although the banks of the Amazon River were under Spanish control, this search for this land was not exclusively for the conquistadors. In 1594 an English Lord, Sir Walter Raleigh came into possession of an account of Spanish origin of a great golden city at the headwaters of the Caroní River. A year later he explored what is now Guyana and eastern Venezuela in search of this city of gold. This was one of the most famous expeditions set out by the British. A great number of these sorts of expeditions ended by failing to find El Dorado, but these explorations accounted for the coverage and mapping of unknown territory, due more to the conquistadors, than to any other single reason. An expedition that was led by Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, which led to the disappearance of himself, his son Jack and his son´s best friend Raleigh. The New York Times has estimated that more expeditions have set out to discover Fawcett's fate than were ever launched to discover El Dorado itself. One of the main reasons that El Dorado has become a myth of great expectations lies of course in the fact that during the early landings in the Americas no one from the Old World could understand one of the native languages. With...
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