Did the Mythical City of El Dorado Exist?

Did the Mythical City of El Dorado Exist?

El Dorado, in its time, attracted European explorers of the New World more than anything else.

The legendary city of gold was supposed to assure the Spanish conquistadors immense wealth and, in a way, immortality.

The City of Gold

Nearly everyone has heard of the mythical city of El Dorado. According to legends, this city was supposed to hold vast reserves of gold. It's no wonder, then, that a large number of adventurers from all corners of the world engaged in its search. They never succeeded, and for many, the quest for wealth cost them their lives.

Even today, it's a significant challenge to map all the locations in Central America. This region is mostly made up of impenetrable jungle, so it's no surprise that people with 16th-century technology had tremendous difficulty exploring such a large part of the world.

But did they ever have any hope, or was El Dorado truly just a chimera?

The Ritual Lake

It's worth noting that the Spaniards didn't just conjure the golden city out of thin air. For one thing, quite a lot of gold objects were found among the natives, and they also learned from the locals about the Muisca tribe, which used a large amount of the yellow metal for its religious rituals.

Their leader, during the ceremony, supposedly entered a lake completely covered in gold dust, where he offered a pile of treasures to the deity. This information naturally intrigued the conquistadors so much that they set out to find the place.

As it turns out, the golden city was not the initial focus. However, even a lake full of riches was a big lure for the Spanish conquerors.


By the mid-16th century, the Spaniards indeed discovered the Muisca tribe and subsequently subdued it. However, the tribe did not possess any significant amount of gold, so the conquistadors turned their attention to the nearby Lake Guatavita, where the rituals were said to take place.

The Spaniards forced members of the Muisca tribe to drain the water using simple clay vessels. It's no wonder, then, that the work hardly went well. Eventually, the Spaniards had to come to terms with the fact that they would never access the gold in this way. But that was far from the end.

A few decades later, another expedition tried to do the same, i.e., drain the lake. This time, however, they used several thousand workers for the purpose. They too failed to succeed. Apart from a few pieces of ceremonial gold, they found nothing interesting in the muddy bottom of the lake.

The Legend

Even though the Spaniards found nothing, the legend of El Dorado successfully spread around the world. And as often happens, over time, the story of a lake full of gold transformed into a city.

A city that various adventurous spirits searched for even in the last century. In the best case, these seekers left empty-handed; in the worst case, their greed killed them.

This was also the fate of one of the most famous corsairs of his time, Sir Walter Raleigh. Although he did not die directly in the jungle, he was executed due to his skirmishes with the Spaniards when he was searching for the mythical city of gold.