Monday, November 3, 2014

Beyond El Dorado

Laguna de Guatavita is located in the municipality of Sesquilé, in the Cundinamarca Department of Colombia, 35 miles north-east of Bogotá.

Laguna de Guatavita was one of the sacred lakes of the Muisca, and a ritual conducted there is thought to be the basis for the legend of El Dorado.
For centuries Europeans were dazzled by the legend of a lost city of gold in South America. The truth behind this myth is even more fascinating. El Dorado – literally “the golden one” – actually refers to the ritual that took place at Lake Guatavita.

The lake is where the Muisca celebrated a ritual in which the Zipa (named "El Dorado" by the Conquistadores) was covered in gold dust, then venturing out into the water on a ceremonial raft made of rushes, he dived into the waters washing off the gold.
Bogota’s Museum of Gold looks at the reality behind the stories that excited the European imagination from the 16th century onwards, telling of a lake into which a ruler entirely covered in gold — the El Dorado or Golden One — made offerings of gold and emeralds.

Afterward, trinkets, jewelry, and other precious offerings were thrown into the waters by worshipers.

Conquistadores Lázaro Fonte and Hernán Perez de Quesada attempted to drain the lake in 1545 using a "bucket chain" of labourers. After 3 months, the water level had been reduced by 3 metres, and only a small amount of gold was recovered.

In 1580 Antonio de Sepúlveda had a notch cut deep into the rim of the lake, which managed to reduce the water level by 20 metres, before collapsing and killing many of the labourers. Various golden ornaments, jewellery and armour were found. Sepúlveda died a poor man, and is buried at the church in the small town of Guatavita.

In 1898 the lake was successfully drained by means of a tunnel that emerged in the centre. The water was eventually drained to a depth of about 4 feet of mud and slime. When the mud had dried in the sun, it set like concrete. A haul of only £500 was found, and subsequently auctioned at Sothebys of London.

The Colombian government disallowed any more draining attempts.

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