Colombia has a complicated topography and climatic variety due to the Andes mountains, which is divided into three mountain chains on entering Colombian territory. Inhospitable paramos alternate with high, cold climate plateaus and hot valleys with exuberant vegetation. The continental position with coasts on two oceans gives rise to extensive areas of jungle and tropical plains in the eastern part of the country. Different societies, governed by chieftains, inhabited the diverse ecological areas, these societies were specialists in goldwork.They used gold as the main material to create pieces of jewelry. One of the reasons they used it was its abundance; however, not less was the importance these cultures gave to the myth, the ritual, the legend, and even, the superstition. This can be demonstrated by detail and care with which the pieces are made, jewels which were buried with their owners, accompanying them and protecting them in their journey to eternity.
Among the most outstanding Pre-Columbian cultures were: Chibchas, one of the biggest and highly developed includes Taironas and Muiscas; Sinu, Quimbaya, Tolima, Cauca, Calima, Nariño, San Agustin, Tierraentro, Malagana. They produced accomplished goldwork and pottery.
The wealth of the local Indians promulgated the myth of El Dorado, Spanish for "the gilded one", a name applied, first, to the king or chief priest of the Muiscas - a South American tribe - who was said to cover himself with gold dust at a religious festival held in Lake Guatavita, near present-day Santa Fé de Bogotá, Colombia.
El Dorado (Spanish for "the gilded one"), a name applied, first, to the king or chief priest of the Muiscas - a South American tribe - who was said to cover himself with gold dust at a religious festival held in Lake Guatavita, near present-day Santa Fé de Bogotá, Colombia.
The ceremony took place on the appointment of a new ruler. Before taking office, he spent some time secluded in a cave, without women, forbidden to eat salt and chili pepper, or to go out during daylight. The first journey he had to make was to go to the great lagoon of Guatavita, to make offerings and sacrifices to the demon which they worshipped as their god and lord. During the ceremony, which took place at the lagoon, they made a raft of rushes, embellishing and decorating it with the most attractive things they had. They put on it four lighted bowls in which they burned much moque, which was the incense of these people, and also resin and many other perfumes. The lagoon was large and deep, so that a ship with high sides could sail on it, all loaded with men and women dressed in fine plumes, golden plaques and crowns.
As soon as those on the raft began to burn incense, they also lit bowls on the shore, so that the smoke hid the light of day. At this time they stripped the heir to his skin, and anointed him with a sticky earth on which they placed gold dust so that he was completely covered with this metal. They placed him on the raft and at his feet they placed a great heap of gold and emeralds for him to offer to his god. In the raft with him went four principal subject chiefs, decked in plumes, crowns, bracelets, pendants and earrings, all of gold. They, too, were naked, and each one carried his offering. When the raft reached the centre of the lagoon, they raised a banner as a signal for silence. The gilded Indian then would throw out the pile of gold into the middle of the lake, and the chiefs who had accompanied him did the same on their own accounts.
After this, they lowered the flag, which had remained up during the whole time of offering. As the raft moved towards the shore, the shouting began again, with pipes, flutes, and large teams of singers and dancers. With this ceremony, the new ruler was received, and was recognized as lord and king.
The Muisca towns and their treasures quickly fell to the conquistadores. Taking stock of their newly won territory, the Spaniards realized that - in spite of the quantity of gold in the hands of the Indians - there were no golden cities, nor even rich mines, since the Muiscas obtained all their gold from outside. But at the same time, they began to hear stories of El Dorado from captured Indians, and of the rites which used to take place at the lagoon of Guatavita. There were Indians still alive who had witnessed the last Guatavita ceremony, and the stories these Indians told were consistent. El Dorado became a myth and a dream; a city, personage or kingdom, it always lay beyond the next range of mountains, or deep in the unexplored forests. The search for this other, non-existent, El Dorado, in various parts of South America, was to occupy men's efforts for another two centuries.