EL DORADO (Span. "the gilded one"), a name applied, first, to the king or chief priest of a South American tribe who was said to cover himself with gold dust at a yearly religious festival held near Santa Fé de Bogotá; next, to a legendary city called Manoa or Omoa; and lastly, to a mythical country in which gold and precious stones were found in fabulous abundance. The legend, which has never been traced to its ultimate source, had many variants, especially as regards the situation attributed to Manoa. It induced many Spanish explorers to lead expeditions in search of treasure, but all failed. Among the most famous were the expedition undertaken by Diego de Ordaz, whose lieutenant Martinez claimed to have been rescued from shipwreck, conveyed inland, and entertained at Omoa by "El Dorado" himself (1531); and the journeys of Orellana (1540-1541), who passed down the Rio Napo to the valley of the Amazon; that of Philip von Hutten (1541-1545), who led an exploring party from Coro on the coast of Caracas; and of Gonzalo Ximenes de Quesada (1569), who started from Santa Fé de Bogotá. Sir Walter Raleigh, who resumed the search in 1595, described Manoa as a city on Lake Parimá in Guiana. This lake was marked on English and other maps until its existence was disproved by A. von Humboldt (1769-1859). Meanwhile the name of El Dorado came to be used metaphorically of any place where wealth could be rapidly acquired. It was given to a county in California, and to towns and cities in various states. In literature frequent allusion is made to the legend, perhaps the best-known references being those in Milton's Paradise Lost (vi. 411) and Voltaire's Candide (chs. 18, 19).
See A.F.A. Bandelier, The Gilded Man, El Dorado (New York, 1893).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)