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EL DORADO  

The gold of the royal graves

Only this enigmatic phrase is capable of describing the many aspects of the Spanish gold-seeking on the American continent.

EL DORADO, the legendary gold land, has nevertheless a real history in the pre-Columbian culture of the Muisca, whose facts are passed down to us via narrations from the early Colonial times. The story goes as follows: on the day of the full moon, the monarch and his court sat on top of a brightly decorated raft and were rowed over a lagoon nearby the modern-day capital of Columbia, Santafé de Bogotá. The monarch was covered with gold dust and he, along with his court, was decorated with gold objects, which they used as offerings to their gods by throwing them into the lagoon. Whilst the Spaniards never found El Dorado, they nevertheless melted down and returned to Spain all the gold they did manage to capture. Today, thanks to archeological grave-finds, we can still admire the remains of these immeasurable treasures of cultural-historical, gold-smith arts in the museums of Bogotá, Madrid and Berlin.

The most important and complete “Treasure of Quimbaya” includes more than 100 golden grave goods alone. In 1892 it was exhibited in Europe for the first time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. Further findings followed with the most outstanding objects being found in royal graves. These were meant to represent their owner’s extraordinary social position beyond death. From the vantage point of the present these findings dated back to 2800 years ago, thus up to the year 800 B.C. However, gold itself didn’t have any material value for the indians of the pre-Columbian cultures. Only when the gold was processed to jewellery and ceremonial objects, was it appreciated as representative of temporal or religious power. The goldsmith art of each culture was specialised into certain fabrications. Magnificent pieces of jewellery arose, similar to those related to ancient and sophisticated cultures, bordering on that of the legendary Incas and Mayas.