El Dorado (Spanish for “the golden one”) is the name of a Muisca tribal chief who covered himself with gold dust and, as an initiation rite, dived into the lake Guatavita. Later on, it became the name of the legendary “Lost City of Gold” that has fascinated and has eluded explorers since the days of the Spanish Conquistadors.
Imagined as a place, El Dorado became a kingdom, an empire, the city of this legendary golden king. Deluded by the legend, explorers like Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro have failed to find this city which continues to be only a legend. El Dorado is applied to a legendary story in which precious stones were found in fabulous abundance along with gold coins. The concept of El Dorado underwent several transformations, and eventually accounts of the previous myth were also combined with those of the legendary city. The resulting El Dorado enticed European explorers for two centuries, and was eventually found to be in Colombia.
Numerous legends and stories have been written about it , Hollywood too seems to be in love with this “Golden City”. The recent Indiana Jones movie was based on the legend surrounding this golden city.
The city of gold continues to fascinate and elude people up to this day. The legend of El Dorado endures because “you want it to be true,” says Jose Oliver, a lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. “I don’t think we’ve ever stopped seeking El Dorado.”
So where is this lost city of gold? In his 1849 poem “El Dorado,” writer Edgar Allan Poe offers an eerie and eloquent suggestion: “Over the Mountains of the Moon, down the Valley of the Shadow, ride, boldly ride…if you seek for El Dorado.”