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Legend tells that when the Muiscas, the native culture of what is today Bogotá, Colombia, had to crown a new cacique, or chief, they congregated at the nearby Guatavita lagoon. Their candidate was then covered in gold dust, and he and the tribe’s shamans would sail to the center of the lagoon in a raft loaded with offerings of gold, emeralds and other precious objects. As the shamans offered the precious objects to the god of the lagoon, the would-be cacique would jump into the icy waters. If he emerged unharmed, he became their new leader.

This legend, which later came to be known as the myth of El Dorado, lured many greedy Spaniards to Muisca territory with the promise of incredible wealth, but aside from some pieces of gold and jewelry found at Guatavita lagoon, no one has ever found the mythical place. But in 1939, to honor the  memory of the Muisca and to preserve the Colombian archeological heritage, the Colombian government created its own Dorado: El Museo del Oro (the Gold Museum), a permanent collection of more than 35,000 ornaments, tools and art pieces made of gold by all the native prehispanic cultures of Colombia.

One of the most famous pieces of the exhibit is a representation of the legend of El Dorado. It is a raft with figures that represent the cacique and his priests made in solid gold. The level of detail of this piece and its historic significance have made it the image of the museum among Colombians. There are other fascinating pieces, such as the Poporo Quimbaya, a golden urn decorated with perfectly round spheres, an especially hard achievement since these cultures didn’t know the metallurgical techniques used in Europe at the time.

The museum, located in downtown Bogotá, has three floors; the first floor houses temporary exhibitions. The second floor displays the main collection: a voyage through the history and customs of the tribes that lived in the center, south and north of Colombia organized according to the type of metallurgical process they used.

Along the way, visitors will also hear the legends, myths and stories that are associated with some of the pieces. Other pieces were made during the Spanish conquest and tell the story of the native resistance and defeat at the hands of the Spanish invaders.

The third floor contains a history of gold and its significance to the prehispanic cultures, along with an exhibit of pieces from cultures originally from the Colombian southwest. By 2007 the museum hopes to open two new exhibits about the cosmology and the technology of prehispanic societies.

The museum has its own stop on the Transmilenio, Bogotá’s mass transportation system. To visit, get off the Avenida Jimenez line at the station Museo del Oro and walk two blocks to the museum.

Address: Carrera 6, 15-88, Parque Santander

Tel: 5-71-343-2222 Fax: 5-71-284-7450

URL: www.banrep.gov.co/museo/esp/home.htm

HOURS: Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, holidays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Monday (including public holidays).

ADMISSION: Adults $1.70; children, indigenous and adults over 60 years old free. Free admission for all on Sunday.



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