According to the cold open of Expedition Unknown S01E05 “City of Gold,” there are still people who believe that a lost city made entirely of gold exists somewhere in the Andes mountains. Given how malleable gold is, it would seem an impractical construction material. Perhaps it is simply gilded? No matter, we back up from the footage of host Josh Gates gaping in awe at some unseen wonder to flash back a week to listen to gates tell us about Paititi, a legendary Inca utopia located somewhere in the Amazon. Gates tells us that “new” evidence from the vaults of the Vatican “suggests that the city might actually be real,” but this “new” evidence was a manuscript from around 1600 rediscovered in 2001 (14 years ago!), in which the missionary Andres Lopez describes Paititi as a city rich in gold and jewels. The legend of the city was already known from many other Spanish accounts.
Gates plans to tag along with an explorer who has spent thirty years looking for the city as he launches yet another trek into the jungle.
In Lima, Gates eats a roasted guinea pig like it was an ear of corn, and he tells a story about caring for his elementary school class hamster while doing so. He then rides a crowded bus while comical Latin American music plays. We are meant to find this amusing, but given the cutbacks in public transportation budgets, American buses aren’t exactly a huge step up at rush hour.
We then get a potted history of Pizarro’s conquest of Peru. An official at a museum in Lima says that the Andres Lopez manuscript tells of Lopez’s visit to the city of Paititi, but this contradicts published accounts that state that Lopez only reported what Native informants told him after returning from an attempt to baptize their countrymen. I had not read the original before watching the show. Yes, of course I’ll translate it for you (from the Spanish) but not until the end. It’s long and it will take a little time, and as I could find, there is only one rough and somewhat inaccurate English translation by a non-native English speaker.
Gates makes plans to trek out into the jungle with psychologist and explorer Gregory Deyermenjian, who last went in search of the city in 2011. He has previously discovered unknown Incan ruins and petroglyphs, and he believes that Paititi really existed.
After a break, Gates takes the opulent Hiram Bingham touring train to Machu Picchu and expresses his discomfort at the unreality of its luxury. We then see some beautiful footage of the Incan city. At Cuzco Gates and Deyermenjian assemble a team to go off into the jungle, and Gates compares them to a group from a “Michael Crichton novel.” When they start suffering from altitude sickness, they buy a bag of coca leaves to combat it. The men travel off through the Andes. The footage of the mountains and valleys is gorgeous, but there is little by way of information as the caravan makes its way through road construction and other obstacles. They spend the night at a Catholic church, in a room full of hay. They travel out to a lake, eat some coca leaves, and pull out of the water ancient potatoes that the Inca apparently used to toss into the lake. I’m at a bit of a loss of what else to say here. The team see some ruins and petroglyphs, documented previously but not famous. They go to the Urubamba River where Gates steps on a hornet’s nest and gets stung.
Then the men come across a stone construction which we are told may not have been documented prior to this expedition. The ruins are quite extensive, perhaps a fortress. The men follow an old Inca trail to still more walls and pull vines from the walls to reveal the beautifully wrought stonework. In a niche in the wall, they find a broken ceramic piece with a stylized face. While Deyermenjian says that the site was undocumented, he also says it is part of a known but unexcavated Incan site, and the show leaves this seeming contradiction unresolved.
The expedition ends without a trace of any golden city. It was an interesting hour for the most part, and the newly discovered ruins were something I’d have liked to see more than three minutes of, particularly since the city of gold is nothing more than fantasy.
And now the text, which shows that the show left out some important details...
The Andrea Lopez Manuscript from Peruana Historia
The Relation of a Miracle through the Mercy of God in the Indies of Peru, or Rather in the Realm of Paytiti Adjacent to Peru.
Father Andrea Lopez, having arrived at the city of Rome to speak with Our Father General, as procurator of that part, reported the miracle shown by the Lord in his mercy in those countries, as follows: Father Andrea Lopez, being rector of the college of the Jesuits in the city of Cusco in Peru, said that in that city were three or four Indians who had been Christianized and baptized by him, were indignant at their mistreatment by some soldiers of the garrison, and decided to leave this country and go to another ten days out from Peru, whose name was Paytiti. It is about a thousand Spanish leagues out, making it three thousand Italian miles, where live men as white as Germans, very warlike and civilized in their way of life and government.
The King is very powerful, and he has a court as majestic as that of the Grand Turk. His kingdom is rich and full of gold, silver, and many pearls to the point that they use such precious materials to make cooking pots and pans as others use metal or iron. The aforementioned Indians left Cusco, and arriving at the kingdom of Paytiti, were examined by the border guards, who examined their bags and equipment. As these Indians were Christians who carried a wooden crucifix that had been given to them before their leaving by Father Andrea, the guards asked about the Crucifix, surprised to see a figure in human form on a piece of wood, and the Indians answered them that it was the image of the God of the Christians.
At that point the guards sneered, laughing and letting them pass freely. They came to the city where the court of the King of Paytiti was, and the King knew of the arrival of these Indians bearing the figure of the God that the Christians worshiped. Out of curiosity the King called them to his presence and his Court, which was attended by all the major Lords out of curiosity, both to see the figure of the God of the Christians and to hear what the Indians were to explain the King.
At the time that the King had the crucifix in hand, without doubt he began to laugh and jeer along with all his courtiers, and having laughed at and had some fun mocking the Crucifix, he returned it to the hands of the Indians, telling them to go with the God of the Christians, and saying these words with the greatest contempt he spat in the face of the Crucifix the Indians had already received. Then the miracle happened. The Crucifix lifted his head, which was tilted at first, as ordinarily Crucifixes are carved. Raising its head and throwing a terrible look and moving the eyes from left to right along with the head, the look was so terrible and frightening, that the king with all his court fell to the ground without any signs of life and all remained in this state for three hours, while the Indian remained standing with the Crucifix in hand, stunned.
At last, the first to rise was the King, and then slowly, all the others one by one, and how surprised and astonished, so that the king began to speak in the mode of Saint Paul: “Great, great is the God of the Christians,” and so did also all who were around him. And suddenly the King and all of them fell to the ground worshiping this Crucifix. In the courtyard of his palace he immediately built a square chapel wholly of gold and adorned it with precious gems where the said Crucifix stood on an altar where he himself with the prince his only son and heir to his kingdom, together with all his court, went every day not once, but several times to worship this Crucifix.
After a few days, with very sincere treatment and curiosity accompanied by holy dedication to the Indians aforementioned, the king asked them about the principles of the Christian law, and promised to enrich the Christians in his kingdom if they could give the order so that he could talk to people wise in Christian law; and so it was decided that the King with some of his courtiers and his only son would go with the Indians to find the Jesuit Fathers and particularly the said Father Andrea Lopez. When they arrived, he was so fully satisfied with Christian doctrine and what Father Andrea Lopez preached, he prayed with such constancy that said Father wanted to baptize him with his son and his main knights. And so the said Father baptized all, and being touched by the devotion, the King by the will of God caught a fever that caused his death, but before this he received all the Sacraments with great faith and great devotion in a way that spread to his son and the other six knights who kept the law of the Christians and not only wished to introduce it to the kingdom, but they begged Father Andrea to go with them to implement the faith, promising to build a beautiful school and a church with walls of solid gold, so that by these words they could understand the great devotion the good King had within his kingdom.
Having agreed, our General Father determined to send Father Andrea on a mission to the Kingdom of Paytiti with some others, who were ordered to leave immediately after Easter. They asked for a blessing over this mission. The aforementioned Father Andrea Lopez discovered some wild Indians of Peru, which had not yet been baptized and had not received the Christian law. Father Andrea started teaching them Christian law and discovered the God they worshiped was a vulgar stone the size of a melon, of sixty weight, and on it they burned incense to sacrifice to this God, who was the same as the stone; Father Andrea asked how long they had the God of stone, and they answered a little over a year or so.
Father Andrea asked who had been God before and was told that the reason they had taken the stone for God was due to the stone’s miracles of healing of diseases that were incurable, because God had given to the stone miraculous strength against some diseases. So every time they sacrificed on the stone of God they cut away a piece to give to the terminally ill and healed them.
By the mercy of God they were persuaded that this was a deception of the devil and it was better to worship one God, from whom the stone the stone received its power, and they were persuaded so well that the Father baptized them. And today they are good Christians. And Father Andrea has brought back the stone worshiped as God and has carried it to the Pope. His Holiness expressed his thanks that God has indeed converted them so that they left the stone, and the stone has been valued at four thousand crowns.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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