sábado, 3 de mayo de 2008

The Great Silletero Parade

Periódico EL DIARIO de Medellín, viernes 26 de abril de 1957.

It could be said that the Silleteros Parade is a gigantic staging, a collective dramaturgy that passes before the spectators as a sequence of episodes that, as a whole, narrates a story. Medellín projects itself to the world with its most festive face by means of this parade.

Antonio Castrillón, vereda El Plan. Silletero fundador Periódico OCCIDENTE de Medellín, 18 de marzo de 1957

The basic scheme of the parade stems from ancient and venerated religious roots, particularly the Corpus Christi Parade, whose pompousness and brightness were famous in Medellín in the first half of the 20th century. Its main feature was the profusion of altars packed with floral decorations, arches, carpets of flowers, garlands and crowns along the central streets of the city. From those years, and thanks to the work of the gardening clubs and the Ladies of the Honor Roll of the Public Improvement Society, there were fly-overs with military planes which sprayed petals and flowers over the crowd.

Periódico EL COLOMBIANO de Medellín, domingo 5 de mayo de 1957

  Many chronicles and novels have described the preparations of these altars and arcades through which the procession would march headed by the religious, civil, military and academic authorities of the city. After them, in a disciplined way, went all the social classes and institutions, followed by the craftsmen association and the unions. It was an honor to take part in those events and the city appeared like a floral carpet that day. The city’s photographic memoirs are testament to the people’s enthusiasm and fervor during those flower-saturated processions.

Little by little, the rural surroundings came to make part of the urban ceremony, from the very moment when the Flowers Festival organizers invited a group of silleteros through the flower merchants of the Cisneros Public Market. Those were the silleteros who used to come down from Santa Elena to stand in front of church atriums and other public markets or to walk through neighborhoods with their silletas full of flowers making a tour of Medellín’s heart.

Pedro Antonio Soto Hernández, vereda Piedra Gorda, 1975

This happened in 1957 when the first exhibit of silletas with flowers took place at Bolivar Park as one of the programmed events of the Flowers Festival that year. Those first silleteros, some of which are still alive, have held ever since the title of founders of the parade, which three years later resumed as The Fiesta of Liberty and Flowers, again with the participation of the silleteros as a spectacular show in the midst of the celebration.

  The great social and esthetic impact of these humble rural characters with their eye-catching load as one of the most salient protagonists of the Fiesta of Liberty and Flowers was immediately translated into an important display of photographs published in the local and the national press, as well as on television and newsreels. The Silleteros Parade had arrived to stay in the nation’s heart as an exceptional show in the national festive calendar.

Eladio Atehortúa Ospina, vereda La Palma. Calle Carabobo, 1967

 The routes of the parades of the first fairs emulated the structure and the passage plan of those established by the religious model and ended at the atrium of the Villanueva Cathedral. The monumentality of the altars in the religious model was gradually passed to the silletas of the civic ceremony of the fair. In both cases, the floral trait underlined people’s ceremonial disposition toward the sacred and the profane.

Grupo de Silletas Tradicionales. Avenida 1º de Mayo, 16 de agosto de 1975

The parade has always passed by those places which highlight the architectural and the urban attributes of the city, from the traditional zones of Medellín’s social and commercial life to those representing contemporary manifestations of public space and the new emblems of the city in the 21st century. When passing, the parade enhances and magnifies everything, and this explains the attraction the show offers to the cameras of tourists and television alike. Unquestionably, the parade quickly became the most recognized postcard image of Medellín, the City of Flowers.


In this way, the routes defined by the Silleteros Parade organization have praised the most symbolic traits of the urban scenery, those which have marked Medellín’s progress. The silleteros have gone through La Playa Street, Junín Avenue, Caracas Street, Juan del Corral Avenue, Eastern Avenue, Palacé Avenue, Colombia Street and San Juan Street and have finished the parade at the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Botanical Gardens, the Cattle Marketplace, the Atanasio Girardot Stadium, the SENA building, the Barefoot Park, and La Alpujarra Administrative Complex. Year after year, the Flowers Fair has been the most salient event in a city that is constantly changing but, at the same time, keeps its most rooted festive traditions.


From September 26, 2006, the parade flaunts the distinction of being part of the ‘National Cultural Heritage’, awarded by the National Congress in a Decree of Honors. Such distinction stresses the importance of the intangible aspects of its festive content which are expressed in the crafting tradition of the floral decorations, in the music and musical groups and in the dances. These manifestations as a whole testify to the skills and know-how that have been kept through time. But, above all, the distinction is recognition to the process of crafting the silletas and to their permanence in the tradition of the parade.

Avenida 1º de Mayo, 1975

  The marching order and the segments that comprise the parade express a hierarchy of scenic items and a sequence of events that catch people’s attention by the display of energy, vigor, plasticity and coordination of the different groups marching along the central avenues of the Antioquian capital.

  The march has contrasting rhythms. It can be said that the slow pace of the silleteros carrying a heavy load on their back represents the silent effort of their physical work when working on the furrows. Here, they are surrounded by thundering trumpets and school drums and by the joviality and the happiness of the dancing groups which harmonize with every segment of silletas. All this provokes a lot of excitement in the spectators.

Entrada de los silleteros al Estadio Atanasio Girardot, 1996

 The folk groups of musicians and dancers performing in-between the silletas in motion are mainly school marching bands and chirimías or traditional musical ensembles as well as dance schools and groups, some of them belonging to local companies or public institutions. These groups cheer up the parade with their beautiful Colombian choreographies, with the spectacular display of regional garments that add to the general color and art of this caravan of joy. Recently, some comparsas or theater groups from other guest festivals such as Barranquilla’s Carnival and Pasto’s Blacks and Whites Carnival have joined the parade.

  The imposing Silleteros Parade, which is 50 years old today, is closed by the siren of the old fire truck, announcing that the curtain falls until next year.

Noemy Ramírez Londoño, vereda Barro Blanco. Calle San Juan, 1999

The trip down to the city, a preamble to the great Silletero Parade, serves as respite to the tiring work of making the Silletas, during the previous night. Luis Fernando Soto, Annexed Village El Llano; Jáder Zapata, Annexed Village Perico.

Proveniente de Santa Elena, la caravana de vehículos cargados de silletas va haciendo su arribo al sitio de partida del desfile. Armando Londoño, vereda Barro Blanco.

Surrounded by her elders, already accustomed to the yearly event, Silleterito Cristina Zapata Zapata, from Annexed Village of El Rosario, gets ready to live her first party. She is accompanied by Campo Elías Zapata, also from Annexed Village of El Rosario.

Coming from quiet rural Santa Elena, these men and women, with their silletas filled with flowers, offer a respite to agitated city life.

Timeless outfits, the straw hat, the ruana (a poncholike garment), the tapapinche (apron) the carriel or satchel, the sheathed machete, and the cotizas (a kind of ceremonial sandal) are a must for the men; and for the women, the embroidered blouse and skirt, the shawl, and the scarf, all fundamental when dressing for the Silletero Parade. Pictured are, Raúl Londoño A., Annexed Village of El Placer, Diego Alonso Alzate A., Annexed Village of Mazo, and María Eugenia Grajales, Annexed Village of Piedra Gorda.

The Silleta has survived the long journey down the mountain from Santa Elena to the streets of Medellín. Time to give the last finishing touches to the Silleta before the Parade.

As if protecting a fragile creature, Silletero Gladis Elena Londoño, from Annexed Village of Barro Blanco, safeguards her entry from the hot sun, while she awaits the beginning of the Parade.

Finalists anxiously await by their Silletas for the judges’ verdict. Each dreams of the Best of Show award. In the photograph, from left to right, Nelly García Zapata, (winner, Emblematic Silleta), Gabriel Jaime Atehortúa (winner, Monumental Silleta), and Juan Carlos Grajales (winner, Traditional Silleta).

This year, the Silleteros imagination went overboard, as a veritable river of designs celebrating the Parade’s 50th anniversary, inundated the streets. Pictured, Genoveva Londoño de Zapata, Annexed Village of Barro Blanco.

Every Silleta, every design emblazoning it, is the object of pleasant niceties and friendly encounters. Dialogue adds to the already rich traditions of the half-century-old Silletero Parade.

This Silletero pauses to ponder just minutes before the start of the parade amid the fragrances of flowers, pine needles, and the myriad of other plants used in the Silletas.

The art of Silleta making is performed by people from all walks of life. There are farmers, professional men and women, clerks, and students who, come August, become Silleta makers.

Different artistic groups accompany the silleteros adding variety to the Silleteros Parade.

For the silletero, it is an honor to participate in the parade.

Images like these become unforgettable images for those who experience the Silleteros Parade first hand.

The spring sun highlights the silletero’s artwork.

Cheering crowds, the best encouragement silleteros can get for their hard work, effort, and artistry.

This prize-winning Silletero’s art, imagination, and effort make the warp and weft that braid the tracks of memory ingrained in the subconscious of thousands of spectators. Pictured here with his award-winning Silleta, David Atehortúa, Annexed Village of El Placer.

Today will be a day to never forget for Silletero Nelly Alexandra García Zapata, Best of Show winner. In the picture, she receives her award from Mrs. Lina Moreno, wife of Álvaro Uribe, president of Colombia.

A tour through the various annexed villages and Silletero homes of Santa Elena affords the visitor a close up view of deeply seeded religious convictions. The parade offers the Silletero a space to honor these beliefs.

Parade streets line up with crowds to honor and shower the Silleteros in applause as they stroll by. No one wants to miss this multicolored celebration.

Once the Silleteros made their niche in Medellín, the city acknowledged them and scheduled a parade in their honor. And it has been 50 years since. Today, the Silletero Parade is an icon of the city.

The parade brings together symbolic ideals of culture set in urban contrasts and today exalting Antioquia people’s nobleness and vigor.

The Medellin Metro overpass serves as backdrop for the Silleteros Parade and two of Antioquia’s most beloved symbols fuse into one.

The Silleteros Parade is another venue to exalt our patriotism.

The multi-colored silletas and typical outfits worn by silleteros are always a visual attraction.

Today is a festive day in Medellín.

The old adage “When the silleteros go by, it is Antioquia’s peoples who go by”, becomes a reality during the Silleteros Parade.

During its fifty-year history the Silleteros Parade has seen several different types of silletas become institutionalized, like the Emblematic Category Silleta seen here, that bring educational or public awareness messages.

Flowers and vegetation are raw materials the silletero artists use to sculpt their traditions.

City streets become a veritable carpet of flowers when Monumental Category Silletas make their way in the Silleteros Parade.

Throughout the entire Flower Fair celebration the city lives a never-ending festive air.

Medellín dresses at its best and readies her balconies and public squares to welcome and bestow honors on the Silleteros.

Ready, set, ..! Silleteros, flowers, music, attires, and dance and music groups await for The word. The city meantime fills the streets with its people who will live its traditions to the fullest.

Entertainment is the responsibility of a great number of artistic and cultural groups, who cheer the spirits of the thousands of spectators.

Getting as much appreciative applause as the Silletas, the bands and marching bands, theatre groups, cultural groups, and dancers are part of the immense choreography of the Silletero Parade.

As if lost in the boisterous parade, this Silleterito follows in the footsteps of his elders, thus prolonging this captivating tradition.

For this Silleterito, parading alongside her elders is a privilege. Children in Santa Elena start to be included in the tradition at an early age, tradition which will remain in their memories for ever.

This Silletero carries her product as it was done in years long past.

New airs permeate the city every August during the Silleteros Parade.

Silletero children have the honor and privilege to carry on their elder’s traditions.

Rural and urban Medellín come together during the Silleteros Parade.

August is synonymous with life in Medellín; everything and everyone celebrate the occasion.

Silletero and flowers mesh together in a gorgeous blend of color and beauty.

The Silleteros Parade also has its share of dignified and solemn moments that stir the emotions of locals and visitors alike.

Medellin puts on its best face to celebrate its main civic event and everyone comes out to enjoy it with civic pride.

The various regions of the country celebrate their traditions and ethnicity during the Silleteros Parade, which has been declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation.

The various regions of the country show their traditions during the Silleteros Parade thus strengthening brotherly ties.

In times long gone, farmers used to trek rustic and solitary trails bringing their vegetables and flowers to the city. Now, the Silletero Parade has become an acknowledged space for city and country to meet and celebrate.

The various urban spaces blend in with flowers, as the Silleteros walk by.

Carrying a Silleta that approaches 200 lbs. in weight is a challenge that makes the Silletero proud. Pictured, José Luís Zapata A, from Annexed Village of La Palma.

The parade has always been designed to include the city’s most iconic locations in its path. Here, the Silleteros are pictured, in the backdrop of La Alpujarra Administrative Center, headquarters of city and Provincial governments.

The Silletero Parade is considered Medellín’s banner event. Thousands of local and visiting spectators celebrate each and every one of the hundreds of Silletas as they parade by.

The fine art applied by the Silletero can be seen in this close up of the Best of Show Silleta, the winning entry at the historic 50th anniversary Silletero Parade.

The rich traditions of Antioquia are practiced in the various regions of the Province. The Silletero Parade is a lavish stage to show off.

Bands marching by to the sound of their own music, cultural groups showing off their cheerful dances, Silleteros walking by to the sound of their own inner rhythm, all come together to offer an unequaled spectacle.

The 50th anniversary Silletero Parade paid homage to Silletero pioneer founders. The Founding Fathers float proudly holds Ana Emilia Sánchez and Graciela Londoño, among others.

The Emblematic Category Silleta is one of the four types of Silletas in the Parade. It makes reference to events or icons, as the one pictured, that are associated with the region.

The men and women with their Silletas represent a community that was born and has been reared amid a universe of plants and flowers. Their tribute to this land is their imaginative handiwork that results in this uniquely embellished combination of wood, flowers, and greenery.

The Parade’s 50 year history is told on the shoulders of Silleteros, who, this time are paid a special homage. Pictured, founding Silletero Oscar Londoño, from Annexed Village of El Placer.

A budding city was the stage for the trade of fruit, flowers, and vegetables brought from high up in the mountain, on the shoulders of a group of brave men and women, in rustic wooden structures.

The presence of the Mounted Police offers a solemn respite to the otherwise boisterous parade that is open to a diversity of events.

In Medellín, the various festivities have had a long tradition and have gone under different names. Beginning with the ‘Flower, Fruit, and Vegetable Exhibition’ in 1906, continuing with the ‘Flower Display Celebration’, passing through the ‘Freedom and Flower Celebration’, and, starting in the second half of the 20th century, the now traditional Flower Fair, where the Silletero Parade became its maximum exponent.

The Silletero Parade is modeled after religious processions, keeping many aspects the same especially the abundant use of flower arrangements.

Edgar Bolívar Rojas