The Mystery of El Dorado and the Lost Cities of Gold
There are many legends of cities made of pure gold. For centuries, archaeologists, explorers, and fortune seekers have made quests for El Dorado, Cibola and Quivira. Some believe these cities actually existed while most believe they were mythological.
The Spanish, eager for gold to fill their coffers, were the first ones to search for cities of gold. Early explorers such as Columbus brought back tales of gold's abundance in the new lands. Three main explorers, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando Cortez, and Francisco Coronado at different times and in different locations set out in search of these golden cities.
The Quest for El Dorado
Francisco Pizarro, spurred on by legends of El Dorado, in 1541, was one of the first to look for the golden city in South America.
Rumors that gold abounded were true. The Inca did not place the great value Spain did upon gold and often used it in abundance for decoration. The Inca temple of Coricancha contained a garden with statues and flowers made of pure gold, and many golden relics were found and plundered by the conquistadors.
The Inca emperor Atahualpa at first welcomed the Spaniards. Pizarro and his men ambushed and captured the emperor and held him for ransom, the ransom being a roomful of gold and other treasure. After the ransom was delivered, Pizarro had Atahualpa murdered. Pizarro managed to conquer the Inca Empire and steal great hoards of gold and other treasures, but an entire city of gold was never found.
Cibola and Quivira
Hernando Cortez was also a Spanish explorer. His quest for the "Seven Cities of Cibola" took him into Mexico, to the capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan. Similar to Pizarro's raid on the Incas, he brutally murdered the emperor Montezuma and conquered the Aztec empire. Cortez claimed all of Mexico for Spain, and acquired much treasure, but failed to find any cities of gold.
Francisco Coronado sought both Cibola and Quivira, one of the other seven mythical cities of gold. His expedition took him into parts of Mexico and the Southwest. Though heard many myths from the Pueblo Indians about the cities of gold, he found no evidence that Seven Cities of Gold actually existed. Because he found little gold, unlike the other two explorers, he fell out of favor with Spain, and his expedition was considered a failure.
Perhaps Edgar Allen Poe describes the search for El Dorado best in his poem about a "gallant knight" who spends his life searching for the legendary city. El Dorado has become synonymous with a quest for the unattainable.