“Me voy para Medellín, a la Feria de las Flores” that is how it sounds a song by Combo de las Estrellas that hasn’t stopped ringing in our house (for one or another reason) since we got to Panama. And it might not seem real but, when we organized this trip to the Colombian city we weren’t aware that we would be just in the first half of the Feria de las Flores festival (flower festival); but we just needed a break from Panama and Medellin is the best option (in every way) to go for it.
History of the silleteros
This year is the 60th anniversary of the silleteros parade, the biggest festival in Medellin, but its history starts way before that.
In the beginning, the silleta was used to sell flowers, fruits and vegetables crossing the hills on foot, it was also a means of transport for those who were sick, children, pregnant women or elderly people who needed to go from the mountain sides to the cities through some narrow ways.
In 1925, a tribute was done to the silleteros. Its history is not yet clear and there are a few versions. The first version goes like this: the silleteros sold their fruits and vegetables in Las Luces Square and, from his chamber’s window, Mr. Efraín Botero could see them and decided to make a tribute. The second version tells the story of a strike by the silleteros due to their low income and they gathered in Las Luces Square, it is then when Mr. Efrain Botero decides to make a tribute. Whichever the story is, that year the silleteros were recognised.
However, it is not until 1957 that the first silleteros parade occurred. Today, it is the biggest festival in Medellin and attracts tourist from every corner of the world and many other areas of Colombia.
The silletas and the parade
To take part on the parade is not an easy task. Not everyone can, only those who have a “contract”, this means they come from silleteros families and this passes on from one generation to the next. That’s why it is a family tradition and people from Antioquia are proud of their roots.
Just until last year there were 4 categories in which one could participate in the parade, this year there is one more:
The traditional silleta, is the une used in the beginning, the box is smaller, it can weight up to 50 or 60 kilos and it has to have at least 15 bouquets (in this category the flowers must be put in bouquets).
The monumental silleta, it is bigger and flamboyant, flowers must be put one by one, it can measure up to 2 meters, with more than 70 types of flowers and weight between 100 and 120 kilos.
The emblematic silleta shows a message chose by its creator, it is usually about a religious, social, educational, environmental or political topics.
The comercial silleta is a promotional one, this is the only category where flowers can be dye.
The artistic silleta is the last category to join the parade, it is similar to the emblematic.
There is also a children and youth categories and the silleteros walk between 20 and 25 kilometres in the parade with their silletas in their backs.
So much to do in Feria de las Flores
This festival lasts a week and they organise many things to enjoy and see. This year as it is the 60th anniversary there is a 3D figure in a mall, there are musical shows in different parts of the cities and the same happens with food and handicrafts. It would be wise to take a look to the schedule if you are around. But, the parade (that unfortunately we couldn’t stay) is August 7th every year.
A visit you can’t miss
We visited a state of traditional silleteros where they harvest the flowers that they’ll use in their silletas. The passion for the flowers it is felt as soon as you enter Santa Elena, and when you get to the state the colours is all you can see. Taken good care without any pesticides we arrived to Finca El Pensamiento where José Zapata awaits for us. First we wander around the state while he talks about the flowers: giant sunflowers, daisies, dahlias… all kind of flowers that have been harvest naturally in the area (they also have an area to harvest other kind of flowers like orchids, but this is not the right environment for it so they are out of the silletera visit); and along the way he will explain how he takes care of his “little garden”. Later he’ll explain the history of the silleteros, its attire (crucial in the parade) and it will built a simple and light traditional silleta (that you can carry later). We decided to go to this activity as we weren’t going to be in the parade and we wanted to learn a little bit more about the history of this festival. In the beginning, we thought it was going to be very touristy and tacky, however, we left with a feeling of joy and that we had learnt something new and fun; that is why we recommend it!
This tour can be done all year around as the weather in Antioquia keeps the flowers in perfect state. That is why they call Medellin the city of the eternal spring!
Silleteros state visit: 79000 COP/per person(~22’5€ or ~$26’7). This tour includes the shuttle, a snack, the hat, the scarf and a stop at Santa Elena’s park, it last around 4 hours.
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