Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley
In the 16th century, Central and South America were invaded by Spanish soldiers called conquistadors, who overthrew the Aztec and Inca empires. Many went in search of a rich land called EL DORADO.
In 1517, Aztec spies saw conquistadors on the coast and relayed news of these pale, bearded strangers to Emperor Moctezuma II. He believed that their arrival marked the return of a long-departed god and king called Quetzalcoatl.
The conquistadors were few in number, but they had ships, horses, armor, and deadly firearms. In Mexico they increased their numbers by joining up with native peoples rebelling against Aztec rule.
In 1532, a band of conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro met the Inca emperor Atahualpa. They tricked him into being captured, and demanded a vast ransom of silver and gold for his release. It was paid, but in 1533 they executed him anyway.
Cortés was born in Spain. In 1518 he was given command of a force of 550 soldiers. He landed in Mexico, and reached the Aztec capital in 1519. He was greeted peacefully, but soon there was bitter fighting. In 1521 Cortés destroyed the city, and in 1522 he became the Spanish governor of this newly conquered land.
El Dorado means “the golden one”—it is the Spanish name for a mythical land in South America, said to be rich in gold beyond all dreams.