Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! The X marks the spot, so get your shovel ready and start digging. Money, gold and jewelry stashed away on some mysterious island usually means trouble. From the mists of time, when mythical gods and legendary heroes roamed the Earth, though the Middle Ages and even the last couple of centuries, we have records of great treasures that seem to have vanished, leaving behind only pies in the sky. Fascinating examples of opulence and decadence, the world knelt to their power and wept at their disappearance. They witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations, and now they are gone. Or are they?
10. Blackbeard’s Treasure
Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the Pirate, spent only two years preying the high seas, more than enough to extract a great treasure estimated at over $100 million. While the Spaniards were busy trying to get their hands on Mexico’s and South America’s gold and silver, Blackbeard and his men patiently waited to plunder the ships carrying the treasures to the old continent. The pirate was captured in 1718 and decapitated under the orders of British lieutenant Robert Maynard, who hung his head from his ship as trophy. In front of his executioners, Blackbeard admitted to having hid his treasure but never revealed where, saying “Only the devil and I know the whereabouts of my treasure, and the one of us who lives the longest should take it all.” This didn’t stop treasure hunters — in 1996, Blackbeard’s ship Queen Anne’s Revenge was found near Beaufort, North Carolina. Valuable artifacts have been recovered, but no sign of the precious cargo.
9. The Amber Room
Widely considered the eighth wonder of the world, the Amber Room is a masterpiece of German and Russian fine art, offered by Wilhelm I, the King of Prussia, to his Russian ally Tzar Peter the Great as a symbol of friendship in 1716.
Made from six tons of amber and covered in gold and gemstones, the impressive chamber was worth well over $200 million at the time it was built. During World War II it disappeared without a trace, and has since been one of the world’s most coveted treasures. During the war, when the Germans attempted to bring the room back to Germany the ship transporting it might have sunk into the sea. Others claim it was transported to Konigsberg Castle, presently Kaliningrad in Germany. Could it be hidden in an abandoned mine in Thuringia? Or buried on the shores of a lagoon in the Baltic Sea? Feel like finding out?
8. Treasure of Lima
In 1820, Peru’s capital found itself on the brink of revolution. As a precautionary measure, the viceroy decided to move the capital’s treasures into Mexico for safekeeping. Precious stones, two life-size golden statues of the Virgin Mary, and many other priceless artifacts were loaded on 11 ships. The viceroy put commander William Thompson in charge, who soon proved to be a merciless pirate. Thompson led the ships to the island of Cocos in the Indian Ocean, where he presumably buried the treasure. When finally captured, he promised to dig up the treasure in exchange for his life. On the island he pretended to lead the way and managed to escape into the jungle. Since that day, over 300 expeditions tried to locate the Treasure of Lima, estimated at over $300 million. All failed.
7. Montezuma’s Treasure
The fall of the Aztec Empire to Spanish conquistadors reached its peak on July 1, 1520. After mortally injuring King Montezuma, Hernando Cortes ordered his men to gather all the riches of the Empire and tried to flee the territory by night. Seeking revenge, the Aztecs attacked the conquistadors near the capital of Tenochtitlan. The carnage that followed filled up Tezcuco Lake with bodies and Montezuma’s stolen treasure, countless gold and silver ornaments and an impressive collection of jewelry.
Cortes and some of his men survived and returned one year later, but the treasure had already been stashed away, protected from the conquistadors’ greed and most likely buried near Tezcuco Lake. Worth over $3 billion today, Montezuma’s treasure might also be hidden somewhere in the swamps near Mexico City, the place where the colossal city of Tenochtitlan once laid… yet generations of treasure hunters have failed to locate it.
6. Leon Trabuco’s Gold
In the early 1930s, Mexican millionaire Leon Trabuco secretly flew to the heart of the Mexican Desert and hid a great treasure. It was the Great Depression — the dollar hit rock bottom and the price of gold was about to skyrocket. Leon Trabuco and his business partners bought as much gold as they could and stashed it away it in the hope of selling it later and getting rich. They piled up over 16 tons of gold, but they never lived to see their dream come true. Leon Trabuco kept waiting for prices to rise until a new law restricting gold commerce prevented them from selling. The gold, which could be worth close to one billion dollars today, seems to have carried a curse. Leon’s partners died within five years, followed by Trabuco himself, taking the secret of the treasure’s whereabouts to the grave.
5. Treasure of El Dorado
A city filled with gold lost in the South American jungle sounds like a fairy tale. El Dorado is the legend of a Muisca Chieftain, a legendary leader who used to cover himself in gold dust during religious ceremonies. The true city of gold is actually Paititi, a mysterious city that might really exist.
Spaniards had been at odds with the Incas in Peru for over 40 years. The locals took shelter in the Vilcabamba Valley, where they withstood Spanish attacks for some time. When the Spaniards finally conquered the valley in 1572, it was deserted. It seems the Incas fled to the jungles to the south of Brazil, taking their treasure with them. The exact location remains unknown, although recent satellite images revealed what seem to be the ruins of vast settlements in the deforested area of Boco do Acre in Brazil. Paititi might be one of them and, if discovered, the secrets of the Incan gold might be revealed, a treasure that could be worth over $10 billion.
4. Flor do Mar
Flor do Mar (Flower of the Sea) left Lisbon on a voyage to Malacca (modern day Malaysia) in 1505. On November 20, 1511, it shipwrecked in a reef in Sumatra with the largest treasure ever carried on-board a Portuguese ship and the largest naval treasure ever lost. Flor do Mar was returning home from Malacca loaded with gold cups, silver plates and gold ingots offered as tribute from the King of Siam to the King of Portugal. While crossing the Strait of Malacca it was caught in a violent storm and broke in half. The captain was rescued, but the treasure and many young sailors were forever lost in the merciless waves. The exact location of the shipwreck remains a mystery. If ever found, the treasure would be worth $2.6 billion in intricately worked gold objects, plus the current value of approximately 60 tons of pure gold.
3. Ark of the Covenant
The Book of Exodus offers plenty of details when it comes to one of Christianity’s greatest treasures. For the ancient Israelis it was the most sacred object on Earth, created by God Himself on Mount Sinai with the help of Moses. The Ark is a massive chest covered in pure gold, with a pair of wooden handles and two golden cherubim on top, their wings spreading out over the “Mercy Seat.” It contains sacred relics, including the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem served as home for the Ark, but when the city was looted by the Babylonians in 607 BC the population fled. When they returned 70 years later, the Ark was gone. No one knows what happened to it. Could the Israelis have hidden the Ark before the Babylonians attacked? If so, why didn’t they recover it?
Most plausible theories locate the relic in either Egypt or Ethiopia. Ethiopian legends talk about the Ark of Axum, perhaps one and the same, hidden inside the Aksum Obelisk. Archeologists have yet to explore even a fraction of the secret tunnels and mysterious labyrinths under the granite colossus. If the Ark were to ever surface, it would be considered priceless.
2. The Pharaohs’ Missing Treasure
When Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the precious artifacts meant to accompany the pharaoh to the other world. It took Carter ten years to finish labeling the vast treasure. Of all the tombs previously uncovered in the Valley of the Kings, King Tut’s was the only one that wasn’t completely empty. Tomb raiders may have looted them, but it all seemed to be part of one huge heist. So where are the treasures of the other pharaohs?
Theories suggest the priests who oversaw the burials were the ones who knew how to evade the many booby traps inside the tombs and moved the treasures out. One of them was Herihor, a senior official and priest at the court of Ramses XI. If Herihor’s tomb is discovered, a great part of the pharaohs’ missing treasure will probably surface. And if King Tut’s burial chamber treasure is estimated at $700 million, and there are at least 24 pharaohs buried in the Valley of the Kings, you do the math.
1. Treasure of the Knights Templar
Many legends revolve around the mysterious Knights Templar, the name behind some of the world’s greatest enigmas. The religious military order was founded in 1114 to protect Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. They soon managed to raise quite a fortune — donations and recognition made the Knights Templar the richest and most powerful military force in Europe. They possessed jaw-dropping amounts of gold and silver bullion, the crown jewels of prestigious European families and significant religious artifacts. Legend has it the Knights Templar discovered Christianity’s greatest treasure under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, they didn’t share the findings with the world, but it’s widely rumored that it might have something to do with the coveted Holy Grail.
The knights invented an early banking system which made them even richer, but also unpopular. By 1291, their prestige was beginning to falter. In 1307, the King of France arrested the order’s leaders and tortured them to confess to heresy and worshiping the Devil. Their lands were confiscated, but when searching their treasury they found it empty. Could the Knights have foreseen their fate and hid their billions of dollars worth of treasures?