The Lost City of Z and the Mysterious Disappearance of Percy Fawcett
Since Europeans first arrived in the New World, there have been stories of a legendary jungle city of gold, sometimes referred to as El Dorado. Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Orellana was the first to venture along the Rio Negro in search of this fabled city. In 1925, at the age of 58, explorer Percy Fawcett headed into the jungles of Brazil to find a mysterious lost city he called “Z”. He and his team would vanish without a trace and the story would turn out be one of the biggest news stories of his day. Despite countless rescue missions, Fawcett was never found. Was he killed by Amazonian tribesmen? And is there any factual basis for his Lost City of Z?
Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was born in England in 1867 and was a famous British explorer who’s legendary adventures captivated the world. An officer in the Army and trained surveyor, Fawcett was the last of the great territorial explorers; men who ventured into blank spots on the map with little more than a machete and a compass. For years he would survive without contact in the wilderness, and befriend tribes who had never before seen a white man. His exploits in the Amazon inspired books and Hollywood movies; Indiana Jones is purportedly based on Fawcett.
Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett in 1911. ( Wikimedia Commons )
The Amazon wilderness is about the size of the continental United States and during Fawcett’s time, it remained one of the last unexplored regions on the map. In 1906, the Royal Geographical Society, a British organization that sponsors scientific expeditions, invited Fawcett to survey part of the frontier between Brazil and Bolivia. He spent 18 months in the Mato Grosso area and it was during his various expeditions that Fawcett became obsessed with the idea of lost civilizations in this area.
The wild wilderness of the Amazon in Brazil, where Percy Fawcett conducted numerous expeditions ( Wikimedia Commons )
Fawcett describes the city of Z
Fawcett formulated theories of a city he called ‘Z’ in 1912. His conviction was fueled in part by the rediscovery of the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, in 1911, hidden away in Peru’s Andes Mountains. During his travels, Fawcett also heard rumors of a secret city buried in the jungles of Chile that was said to have streets paved in silver and roofs made of gold. Of Z itself, Fawcett had a specific idea of what the city looked like. In a letter to his son Brian, Fawcett wrote:
I expect the ruins to be monolithic in character, more ancient than the oldest Egyptian discoveries. Judging by inscriptions found in many parts of Brazil, the inhabitants used an alphabetical writing allied to many ancient European and Asian scripts. There are rumors, too, of a strange source of light in the buildings, a phenomenon that filled with terror the Indians who claimed to have seen it.
The central place I call “Z” — our main objective — is in a valley surmounted by lofty mountains. The valley is about ten miles wide, and the city is on an eminence in the middle of it, approached by a barreled roadway of stone. The houses are low and windowless, and there is a pyramidal temple. The inhabitants of the place are fairly numerous, they keep domestic animals, and they have well-developed mines in the surrounding hills. Not far away is a second town, but the people living in it are of an inferior order to those of “Z.” Farther to the south is another large city, half buried and completely destroyed.
In 1920, Fawcett came across a document in the National Library of Rio De Janeiro called Manuscript 512. It was written by a Portuguese explorer in 1753, who claimed to have found a walled city deep in the Mato Grosso region of the Amazon rainforest, reminiscent of ancient Greece. The manuscript described a lost, silver laden city with multi-storied buildings, soaring stone arches, wide streets leading down towards a lake on which the explorer had seen two white Indians in a canoe. On the sides of a building were carved letters that seemed to resemble Greek or an early European alphabet. These claims were dismissed by archaeologists who believed the jungles could not hold such large cities, but for Fawcett, it all came together.