I’ve just been pondering why the Gold Museum of Bogota is so important. It actually comes up as number 1 in the top things to do in all of Colombia. Of course I paid it a visit, but why was it worth my time?
Actually the best answer to why the Gold Museum of Bogota is so important, comes down to a myth. You’ve probably heard about it, or let’s say him – El Dorado. A myth! Well it’s a myth laden with truthful occurrences, as El Dorado was supposedly one of the Colombian Indigenous leaders of the Muisca people. However, there is another more logical reason for the importance of the museum -it contains one of the largest collections of pre-Hispanic gold in the world with more than 55,000 pieces of gold and other materials from all the major pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia.
The museum isn’t all gold. There are pottery, stone, shell, wood, textile etc based objects. At the entrance I join a tour explaining the uses of Tumbaga, an alloy of gold and copper used widely by these pre-Columbian civilisations.
But like I said, the better answer of the museum’s importance comes down to that Myth. The Myth the discovered Muisca Raft testifies to (image 1), showing that there was a indigenous tradition hoarding gold out into a lake, via raft, and sending the gold overboard. Supposedly this is where a lot of those 55,000 pieces come from.
My research into El Dorado consisted of watching the Dreamwork production, The Road to El Dorado. It’s a myth, so that’s as good as you’re going to get. Since I’ve been in Latin America for over a year now, there were certain aspects of the movie I doubted. Eg. La Danza de Los Voladores, that I personally watched in Mexico, would not have been performed in Colombia, as it was in the movie. But who knows, we’re set roughly in 1519AD.
I’m not actually sure who is meant to be El Dorado in the movie, probably the kind chief leader, Tannabok. However, he never sails out into a lake, covered in gold dust and submerges, as the tale apparently reveals. Nevertheless, the movie does continually show excessive amount of gold lost to the depths of the lake around the town. Many of the objects are recovered from the lake. In fact, various attempts have been made to drain it. The first attempt was in 1545, reducing the water level by three metres and recovering only a small amount of gold.
So where exactly is this lake?
Being in the country I had to make a visit to this famed lake, right? I may even find some gold. Yet, like the movie and the Spaniards in search of the El Dorado, I never quite made it there. I did however make it to the Town Guatavita, which while it doesn’t host the actual lake itself, it was still very beautiful. (You need to go across to one of those mountains [I think. *Refer to map in the movie.].)
The Myth’s Value.
At the end of the day, what was the point of this myth? Well, if the Museum of Gold has 55,000 pieces, imagine how much was available when the Spanish first landed. Next imagine how excited the conquerers would have been, thinking there was so much more available, buried under the surface of a lake or tucked away in a hidden empire. So plenty of people (like myself) went in search of it. In the 16th century, this was a lot more important. There is an added sense of mystery and promise if one thought there was a hidden land of treasure. Even more Europeans are going to be interested in the reaching the Indigenous-inhabited land of South America. Since El Dorado was never truly discovered, the term became synonymous with a place of fabulous wealth or inordinately great opportunity.
*Encyclopedia.com has pretty good explanation of the myth if you wanted to know more.