The Muiscas, the indigenous people of Colombia, who once lived high in the Andes, gave the world the legend of El Dorado: When a new chieftain rose to power, he covered himself in gold dust and dived deep into Lake Guatavitá to pacify the underwater gods. As part of the ceremony, gold and precious gemstones like emeralds were thrown into the lake to please the gods, and to mark the beginning of the new chieftain’s rule.
Spanish explorers who arrived in the early 16th century gave the golden king the name El Dorado, “the gilded one.” In 1545, the Spaniards attempted to drain the lake, hoping to recover the fabulous treasure. What they found were hundreds of pieces of gold, which led them to believe there had once been a city of untold riches.
Preserving the pre-Hispanic heritage of Colombia
Beyond the fascinating stories of times past, the Muisca Empire as we know it today is just as mysterious and captivating. With plenty of relics and artifacts that continue to be discovered around modern-day Colombia, we are left in awe of their hierarchy in leadership, elaborate craft and trade practices, and their massive impact on Colombian culture.
Few people are aware that the Muisca Empire flourished for more than a thousand years, and was as advanced a civilization as the more well-known Inca, Maya, and Aztec civilizations. Centuries later, descendants of the Muiscas and local archaeologists are fighting an uphill battle to rescue, document, and preserve their heritage, which was put at great risk with the expansion of Bogotá, the Colombian capital.
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