The Lost World of El Dorado

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In search of El Dorado

In the 16th century when the Spanish Conquistadors conquered Mexico they began to hear rumors of a fabulous priest-king who was said to cover his body with gold dust. The conquistadors called him El-Dorado or the Gilded King, and the Golden One. The city he ruled over was said to be paved with gold and held unimaginable treasures.

The Zipa and the Zaque

When the conquistadors explored what is now Columbia they found the Muisca people who were organized into the Muisca Confederation. This confederation had two rulers; the Zipa and the Zaque. The Zipa ruled over the southern part of the confederation that was then called Bacatá and now known as Bogota and during the time of the Spanish conquest the Zipa held ascendency over the Zaque.

The Zaque ruled over the northern part of the confederation. These were positions of tremendous prestige, authority and power and they were held in great honor by the people. Elaborate ceremonies surrounded them and were part of their duties to participate in and perform.

The Zipa was held in such high esteem that even members of the Muisca nobility would not dare to look him in the face. Although the position was inherited it was not from a patrilineal line. The new ruler would come from the oldest son of the oldest sister of the previous Zipa so he would be the nephew. Although there were some exceptions to this and the people had some say in the matter, but usually only to give their consent to the successor at the ceremony on Lake Guatavita.

One of the most important tasks of the Zipa was to offer the gods gold and this was done with great ceremony at Lake Guatavita the sacred lake of the Muisca. In a ceremony on barge on Lake Guatavita the Zipa would be covered in mud and then gold dust sprinkled over him and then floated out to the middle of the lake. While his people watched from the shore he would dive in the water washing himself clean of mud and gold dust. His attendants then threw gold and silver objects and precious stones into the water for the gods and the people would roar their approval from the shore.  Read more

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