In 1526, Hernán Cortés wrote about a fabled lost city. Generations of scholars have considered it a myth. But now, a new expedition may be on the verge of proving otherwise. Did the lost city of Ciudad Blanca really exist?
Did Hernan Cortez find the Lost City of Ciudad Blanca?
Description: Cortez and his army fight back into Tenochtitlan
Attribution: Emanuel Leutze (1848)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Mysterious Lost City of Ciudad Blanca?
In 1526, Cortés wrote his fifth letter to Charles V. In it, he mentions a mysterious province named Xucutaco which “will exceed Mexico in riches.”
“…I have trustworthy reports of very extensive and rich provinces, and of powerful chiefs ruling over them, and of one in particular, called Hueitapalan, and in another dialect Xucutaco, about which I possessed information six years since, having all this time made inquiries about it, and ascertained that it lies eight or ten days’ march from that town of Trujillo, or rather between fifty and sixty leagues. So wonderful are the reports about this particular province, that even allowing largely for exaggeration, it will exceed Mexico in riches, and equal it in the largeness of its towns and villages, the density of its population, and the policy of its inhabitants.” ~ Hernán Cortés, 1926, Fifth Letter to Charles V
Based on the letter, it appears he first heard of this strange place around 1520. It was probably located in the impenetrable jungle of Honduras’ Mosquito Coast. In 1544, Bishop Cristobol de Pedraza wrote a letter to the King of Spain, describing a mysterious city in the jungle. It was located in a valley and his guides informed him that its people ate on gold plates.
Ciudad Blanca & the Lost City of the Monkey God?
Centuries later, in 1939, explorer Theodore Morde claimed to have found a lost city in the jungle.
“Explorer Theodore Morde Finds in Honduras Jungles a Vanished Civilization’s Prehistoric Metropolis where Sacrifices were made to the Gigantic Idol of an Ape – and Describes the Weird “Dance of the Dead Monkeys” still Practiced by Natives in Whom Runs the Old Blood” ~ Milwaukee Sentinel Headline, Sept. 22, 1940
Morde supposedly went on to write a book entitled, The Lost City of the Monkey God, although I have yet to locate a copy of it. Unfortunately, he was run over by a car before he could return to his city.
Over the years, all these ruins have generally been attributed to one city, the legendary Ciudad Blanca. According to Christopher Begley’s and Ellen Cox’s article, “Reading and Writing the White City Legend: Allegories Past and Future,” the roots of Ciudad Blanca lie deep in Honduran mythology. The Pech and Tawahka peoples tell stories about Wahai Patatahua (Place of the Ancestors) and Kao Kamasa (The White House). According to the Pech, the Honduran gods fled to these places after the arrival of the conquistadors. While the exact location remains unknown, it is generally believed to be in the remote areas of the Mosquito Coast.
The Lost City of Ciudad Blanca – Discovered at Last?
On May 15, 2012, Pepe Lobo, the President of Honduras, announced the completion of “the first-ever airborne light detection and ranging (“LiDAR”) imaging survey of previously-uncharted areas of the Mosquitia region of Honduras.” The work was aided by famous author, Douglas Preston, whose novel The Codex describes a search for Ciudad Blanca. The initial analyses of the data seem to show archaeological ruins in the area.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
So, is this the famous Ciudad Blanca? Well, it’s time for a reality check. The press release doesn’t claim to have found the White City. As you can see below, it’s couched in far more careful terms.
“Initial analysis of the LiDAR data indicates what appears to be evidence of archaeological ruins in an area long rumored to contain the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca.” ~ The Government of Honduras & UTL Scientific Press Release, May 15, 2012
This press release was jointly issued by the government of Honduras and UTL Scientific. UTL is a media company and is making a documentary of the search. Both parties have ample reasons to hype up this venture. Also, this is hardly the first modern search of its kind. In the late 1990s, Francis Yakam-Simen, Edmond Nezry, and James Ewing claimed to have discovered Ciudad Blanca using Synthetic Aperture Radar technology. They wrote a paper about it, entitled A Legendary Lost City found in the Honduran Tropical Forest. I have no idea whether they ever actually visited these supposed ruins.
In the end, it’s unlikely these new ruins were that of Ciudad Blanca. It’s even questionable whether Ciudad Blanca ever existed in the first place. Its roots lie in mythology. And neither Cortés nor Bishop Cristobol de Pedraza described their supposed cities in that fashion. The name appears to be a later addition. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ruins in the area. Indeed, Dr. Chris Begley has discovered over 200 archaeological sites in the region, which he chronicles on his website. So, ruins are out there. But do they belong to a massive, undiscovered city? That remains to be seen.