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5 Lost Cities

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4
El Dorado: The Imaginary City
Surprise! No pictures of the imaginary El Dorado exist. But here's an old shot of Percy Harrison Fawcett just before he rode into the Amazon.
Surprise! No pictures of the imaginary El Dorado exist. But here's an old shot of Percy Harrison Fawcett just before he rode into the Amazon.
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

The pursuit of wealth has long encouraged treasure-seekers to play the lottery, enter sweepstakes and search for pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. However, few legends have elicited as passionate a response as that of El Dorado, the famed (and almost definitely imaginary) city of riches that has eluded explorers for centuries.

The origin of El Dorado, which is Spanish for "The Gilded One," dates back to the 16th or 17th century, when European explorers in South America first heard tales about a fabulously wealthy American Indian chief who was perpetually covered in gold dust [source: National Geographic]. The city -- supposed to be located somewhere in the northern portion of South America -- was said to be chock-full of precious gems and gold. Thousands of explorers have tried in vain to locate this city of riches, and many of them have died in the process from a variety of causes, including disease and starvation.

One of the most famous cases involves Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British explorer who set out in 1925 to find El Dorado, which he named the City of Z. Fawcett and his expedition party entered the jungles of the Amazon, never to be heard from again. Still more explorers have endeavored to find Fawcett's group but have repeatedly turned up dead or empty-handed. Given this track record, even Indiana Jones might encourage El Dorado seekers to buy a scratch-off ticket instead of risking their lives.


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