There’s gold in them thar hills. Or jewels under the sea. Or silver in those caves.
They’re the great mysteries of the ages, billions of dollars of treasures lost to the world. And with a bit of luck (plus millions of dollars of financing and uber-high tech equipment), you might stumble upon them yourself.
Balsa Muisca (Muisca raft) figure is on display in the Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia. Picture: Wikimedia Commons.Source: Supplied
Hidden in the depths of the Amazon rainforest is said to be a city of gold. The legend of El Dorado has captured the imagination over the centuries and has spawned myriad tales including, recently, a Disney movie and a video game.
While the legend has come to be wildly exaggerated over the years to apply to any wealthy civilisation fleeing with its gold from Spanish Conquistadors, it actually originated as a tale about one man. A Muisca tribal chief was once known as the ‘golden man’ or ‘gilded one’ and he was showered in gold dust and jewels.
As part of a ceremony honouring the chief, the gold and jewels were thrown into Lake Guatavita, about 80 kilometres from Bogota, Colombia, to appease an underwater god. Attempts to drain the lake have yielded no more than a small amount of gold and artefacts. So far.
LOST FABERGE EGGS
The Gatchina Palace egg is part of the Walter’s Art Museum collection. Picture: Wikimedia Commons. Source: Supplied
They’re intricate creations encrusted with shiny jewels and applied with such care, driving the beholder to wonder aloud just how these elaborate Faberge eggs came into being.
The very first Faberge egg was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III, crafted from gold and enamel and contained a miniature replica of the Russian Imperial Crown. Peter Carl Faberge was then anointed a special ‘goldsmith’ to the royal family and he would go on to make about 50 eggs for them and another dozen or so for wealthy private clients.
When the royals were murdered as part of the Russian Revolution, Faberge fled his homeland to Switzerland and the Imperial eggs housed at the palace were confiscated by the Bolsheviks. During the ransacking and the subsequent transportation to the Kremlin Armoury, eight eggs disappeared.
The lost eggs are estimated to be worth between $90 to $150 million. Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg paid $100 million for nine eggs in 2004. More than your average Easter egg.
FLOR DE LA MAR
Despite many attempts to find it, the ocean floor is unwilling to give up the treasures on Flor de la Mar. Picture: Thinkstock. Source: ThinkStock
Portuguese frigate Flor de la Mar has been described as the Holy Grail of shipwrecks. And why wouldn’t it be when there’s an estimated $2.6 billion in loot at the bottom of the ocean floor off the coast of Sumatra in western Indonesia.
The ship was wrecked more than 500 years ago on its way back to Portugal from present-day Malaysia with its wooden belly swollen with riches pillaged from Malacca. The nine-year old ship had been deemed unsafe to sail, especially under the weight of all that stolen booty.
It was said to carrying endless chests of diamonds, gold, rubies, coins, sapphires and, apparently, the Malacca sultan’s throne.
But karma may have caught up with the Flor de la Mar because it hit a violent storm not long after it set sail. The ship broke in two and while Captain Alfonso d’Albuquerque and a handful of his crew escaped on a life boat, the Flor de la Mar sunk below the waves with the unfortunate trapped slaves and all its riches ensconced in the watery coffin.
BANCO CENTRAL HEIST
The Brazilian bank robbers behind the Banco Central heist were a little more subtle than Bonnie and Clyde’s stick-em-up style. Source: Supplied
In 2005, the brazen heist of almost $AU100 million in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza broke the record as the greatest bank robbery in history.
It’s thought that between 25 and 35 people were involved in the ingenious caper. The gang rented a house near the bank for months and covertly dug an 80 metre-long tunnel into the bank’s vault. And it wasn’t a ramshackle tunnel, it was kitted out with lighting and an air-circulation system.
On the weekend of August 6 and 7, the group made off with containers of small bills, in total weighing three and a half tons. Because they were small bills, the money wasn’t insured.
Over the years, members of the group have been tracked down and arrested while some still evade the police. One of the masterminds of the operation, Luis Fernando Ribeiro, was found murdered a few months after the robbery, thought to be the victim of a kidnapping and ransom. There are also other stories of kidnappings of those involved in the heist, each time with a hefty ransom demand.
The authorities have only managed to recover 10 per cent of the stolen loot so far.