Search for El Dorado The Lost City of Gold: History of the Search Part 3

About the search for the lost city of Gold known as El Dorado in the land of the Incas and Aztecs, history and background of the search.

The Continuing Search for . . . El Dorado, the City of Gold

As late as 1595 Domingo de Vera, governor of Trinidad, persuaded the Spanish King to authorize yet another overland search for El Dorado. Sir Walter Raleigh talked his way out of imprisonment in the Tower of London with his plans for an English expedition to El Dorado to be sponsored by James I. This was in 1617, and when he returned to England in 1618 without the promised cargo of limitless gold, he was beheaded.

Still the myth of El Dorado persisted. Seventeenth-century maps continued to show it, and by then it had become "the largest citie in the entyre world." Its location shifted variously, east from Colombia to the basin of the Amazon River in Brazil, to the swamp-soaked jungles of Guiana. Inevitably, after nearly a century of unfulfilled expectations, a few disbelievers appeared. The Spanish geographer De Herrera wrote sadly in 1601, "There be opinion that there is no El Dorado."

Stubbornly, 2 Franciscan lay brothers, who revived the dying faith in 1637, searched for a "Temple of the Golden Sun" on the east slope of the Andes. The Portuguese also headed in the same direction that year, starting out from Brazil. In 1714 the Dutch West India Company dispatched an army of men to see if the real El Dorado was Manoa on Lake Parima. Neither the lake nor the city existed.

The great Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt, beginning in 1799, scientifically and with Germanic thoroughness retraced all the steps taken by earlier seekers of El Dorado. He sailed up the Orinoco, down the Meta, and in 1801 after 45 days traveling up the Rio Magdalena, he finally reached the authentic, if legendary, El Dorado-already many times discovered and revisited on the tablelands of Bogota. Since Quesada had partly dredged Lake Guatavita and found 4,000 pesos de oro, Humboldt made some computations: If every year for a century 1,000 Indians dropped 5 trinkets of gold in the lake, there would be 500,000 gold pieces.

Humboldt, despite his lofty intentions of dispelling the myth, started a worldwide rage for draining the lake. The most exhaustive attempt was made in 1912 by Contractors, Ltd., of London. They shipped $150,000 worth of equipment to Colombia and lowered the level of the lake, already half dried up by a long drought. From the mud they reclaimed $10,000 worth of gold. But it had cost some $160,000. The most publicized expedition was headed by British explorer Col. Percy H. Fawcett, who disappeared in the Matto Grosso jungles of Brazil in 1925.

CONCLUSIONS: El Dorado from the beginning belonged to the category of "lost cities" and "lands of nowhere." But too many imaginations had been captured by the concept of a place with streets of gold, where gold was a contemptible commonplace instead of the supreme deity. Milton in Paradise Lost spoke of El Dorado. Voltaire made Candide visit there, depicting it as a never-never land where children played with golden quoits. Even Poe added his voice in an evocative passage:

Where can it be--

This land of Eldorado?

Over the Mountains of Moon,

Down the Valley of the Shadow.

Some historians suggest that the 1st explorers searching for El Dorado had been misled by the Cundinamarca legend. These scholars claim the actual El Dorado was waiting in a different form under the ground in California and in the Yukon. However, the Chibchas high in their plateau of Bogota in the land of the condor-with its harsh, unyielding soil and its climate that is never warmer than 66 deg. and no colder than 50deg.-had at the very beginning given the 1st discoverers their truest gold: the potato. It was from here that the strange tuber with its vinelike leaves and purplish flower came to the Western world. With its introduction into the diet of Europeans, famine was for a time abolished from their lives-a gift more precious than any metal.

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