Let us think together for a few minutes.
Imagine yourself hiking through a forest with your friends. You love hiking and the nature and the raw wilderness the nature provides. Suddenly, you and your friends come across ruins of what it seems like a city. How would you feel?
You notice that the ruins are completely covered with the forest, and you see that no one has ever visited this place. You are the first person to come across a city that was lost in ruins.
That’s when you realize that you have heard stories about a city that contains treasures, and gold – lots and lots of gold.
What do you do?
You obviously look for the gold, and explore the place, fascinated by it. It seems like you are walking in a place that was trapped in time for so long, the forest took it to be hers.
Many such cities actually exist. We may think that the jungles and forests can be easily navigated, but the jungles on the Congo and the Amazon basin are so dense, we still haven’t mapped the whole place yet. And the biggest mystery is, we do not even know where the Amazon river starts from! In such dense jungles, once upon a time, there were great cities.
These great civilizations ended and their cities were left in ruins. But some inhabitants talked about the riches of these cities. And you know how people are with gossips. Soon, gossips became legends. But in this time, the inhabitants died, leaving the explorers who wanted to find these places blind.
These explorers started ambitious expeditions – with soldiers, local people serving as coolies and their best cartographers. Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal explicitly funded such expeditions. They were called conquests and the men leading such conquests were called conquistadors. A convoy of hundreds of such explorers would attempt to enter the belly of these amazingly dense and lethal forests without understanding the nature of them.
Soon, disease, poison, dehydration and wild animal attacks would hit them. And a convoy of a hundred would be reduced to a mere ten. And finally, only one or two survived the expedition. The rainforests are unforgiving – and these explorers failed to acknowledge this aspect.
But, some conquistadors did see things and they did come out and talk about wonderful sights. One such explorer was Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo who wrote that
“He went about all covered with powdered gold, as casually as if it were powdered salt. For it seemed to him that to wear any other finery was less beautiful, and that to put on ornaments or arms made of gold worked by hammering, stamping, or by other means, was a vulgar and common thing.”
A king who treated gold as we treat iron and steel? Obviously, this means that their cities were made of gold!
And that is how a legend starts, and the snowball comes with an avalanche of great legend – buildings made of gold! Riches beyond compare!
1. El Dorado does NOT mean the city of gold. It actually means “the gilded one”. But such a city is recorded in history
Yes, contrary to the stupid Disney movie that made everyone believe that El Dorado means the City of gold, the name actually refers to the tribe chief who was covered in gold and threw gold into the lake during his ceremony. Explorers saw the chief throw so much gold to appease the lake god, that they were pretty sure, if they drained the lake, they would find a lot of gold. So they did – the lake of Guatavita.
But draining a lake in the middle of a rainforest is not that easy a job, and so they could only drain a few meters of the lake, until they found many ornaments of gold at the drained banks. They could not drain anymore, and it is said that riches beyond compare still lies in this mythical lake.
Many other explorers tried to find this chieftain and his tribe and the city and the lake, but didn’t find any. Many perished in their endeavor and many just gave up.
2. The lost city of Z – the city with better engineering than medieval Europe
Some riches are not just about gold. It was said that this city of Z was full of intelligent people – engineers who had made a complex network of good roads that joined the vast city. It had solved all the engineering problems that beset big cities. This too they had achieved while being in the middle of the jungle. Explorers wanted to know this place because of this and this only.
Many planes that flew over the area in Brazil spoke about ramparts that were sometimes visible from the air.
But it was never found.
3. Derrotero de Valverde – a cave full of treasure beyond imagination kept to rescue a hostage king
If you have read the comic book – Tintin and the prisoners of the sun, you must have read about an Incan tribe that lives away from the civilization, away from normal people, with riches beyond compare.
The real treasure is very similar too.
An Incan king was taken hostage by a Spanish Conquistador and in return of his life the Incan king offered a room full of gold.
The Spanish explorer, a fool killed the Incan king whose final instructions were to keep the gold hidden in a secret cave. The latest explorer Barth Blake found a cave full of man-sized gold vessels full of gems and jewellery and larger than life gold statues of men, animals, and birds. He took a potful of gold and returned to New York to raise a bigger expedition, but was murdered midway.
The Valverde treasure remains unfound – or hidden by its protectors.
4. Atlantis – the mythical city submerged. Or a real one?
Plato spoke about an island city that was at war with Athens. We also know that Plato wrote a lot of fables and many experts dismiss Atlantis as a work of fiction. But a possibility arose when scientists factored in the possibility of a tsunami – they realized that some cities must have been submerged in water. They started looking with radar and found a couple of submerged cities under water.
Actually, every European coastal country found their Atlantis.
Russia, Sweden, Spain.
Atlantis has never been found, and doubts still arise over it being found because the world underwater is in a state of constant flux – and humans haven’t even explored 5% of it.
Atlantis, and whatever unique culture it may have had is lost.
5. Ciudad Blanca The City of The Monkey God – a lost city that was actually found!
If I tell you that there was an ancient city that had buildings made of white and they worshipped a big monkey God you would probably believe it.
But rational scientists did not – until they actually came across it during an exploration in Honduras. Ciudad Blanca was a myth – very similar to the myth of El Dorado. The myth spoke about riches beyond measure, accumulated by the Mayans over centuries. There were multiple explorations by many parties. And they spent months scouring the jungles in search for the city. They found relics and artefacts that were made of white stone.
The riches have not been found yet, because to find them would mean to harm the delicate ecosystem of the rainforests. Right now Honduras is grappling with the dilemma of destroying the ecosystem to find some pieces of gold.
Lost cities tell us a lot about our own species. How a tribe that was on the same continent but grew to be something very unique. These cities also tell us about the circumstances in which they deteriorated. Why people abandoned them.
There are so many questions to ask after a discovery on just one of these lost cities, and not just about the treasures inside.
They give us a look through the window into the minds of people who had prosperity, but still vanished without making history.