The legend of El Dorado has been around for hundreds of years. However, not many people are familiar with its intricacies. As a matter of fact, El Dorado, translated from Spanish as “the golden one” originally referred to a person.
As the Spanish explored the New World during the 16th century, they came across a tribe in the Columbian highlands, known as the Muisca. The tribe was rich in terms of both culture and wealth. However, of particular interest was their elaborate initiation ceremony for new tribal chiefs. After a short ritual seclusion, the chief-to-be travelled with his people to Lake Guatavita to make a sacrifice to their god. Once at the lake, they would build a raft and lavishly decorate it. The chief-to-be would board the raft, where he was then coated from head to toe in gold dust – becoming El Dorado. He also brought with him on the raft a pile of gold and gems. After being covered in gold, he would push this pile into the lake as a sacrifice and the ritual would be complete – cementing him as the new tribal chief.
Of course, such a tribe with gold to spare was quickly overrun with conquistadores. Gold was religiously significant to the Muisca, and one of their legends was based on an entire city made of gold, also called El Dorado. The conquistadores heard the tale from tribesmen they had captured, and so set off on a number of unsuccessful expeditions to find the mythical city.