Dogtanian may have been a long serialised cartoon but even it couldn’t match the length of Mysterious Cities of Gold! Running to no less than 39 episodes, it was truly an epic cartoon series, following the search for the fabled Cities of Gold of South American legend by Spanish orphan Esteban and his friends Zia, a young Inca girl, and Tao, who is the last of his people after their empire was sunk beneath the waves.
The story starts in the early 16th century when a baby named Esteban is rescued at sea by Mendoza, a navigator on a ship. Esteban wears a medallion of the sun, which is thought to link him to the Cities of Gold. Mendoza looks after Esteban and as the child grows it appears he has some kind of magical control over the sun, being able to make it appear from behind the clouds when needed. When he is old enough, Mendoza and his friends Pedro (a tall skinny man who’s face looks somewhat like a monkey – but he was indeed human) and Sancho (an overweight dimwitted oaf) set sail for South America, hoping to find the fabled Cities of Gold and Esteban’s long lost father.
They are eventually joined on their quest by Zia also wears a pendant of the sun, and is also missing her father after she was kidnapped from Peru and taken to Spain. Tao also adds to the group, along with his pet parrot Kokapetl. Being the last of his people Tao is quite headstrong at times, but he knows a lot about the strange technologies that the group come across during their journeys. The Mysterious Cities of Gold were actually built by Tao’s people, who had a grasp of technology far beyond that of the time in which the series is set.
Chief amongst the technological wonders they come across is a giant golden condor which is actually a cleverly constructed flying machine. The three children appear to be the only ones who can make the giant bird fly, and it soon becomes their primary form of transport during their search. Other technology eluded to would appear that the ancient civilisation also had knowledge of nuclear fusion, and the capacity to build atom bombs!
Mysterious Cities of Gold was first aired in the UK on Children’s BBC in 1986, and I remember tuning in avidly each week to follow the story. I’ve forgotten most of the actual storyline now, but memories of the golden condor and the great theme song still hold dear. Luckily, if I ever have the time to watch it, the complete series is now available on DVD, complete with the short educational documentaries at the end of each episode telling you about the history of the Incas, Olmecs and Mayans. These documentaries were not shown as part of the Children’s BBC run for some reason. See how much of the theme song you can remember with the video clip below!