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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the silletero, it is an honor to participate in the parade.
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.
The multi-colored silletas and typical outfits worn by silleteros are always a visual attraction.
Today is a festive day in Medellín.
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.
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.
Entertainment is the responsibility of a great number of artistic and cultural groups, who cheer the spirits of the thousands of spectators.
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.
Silletero children have the honor and privilege to carry on their elder’s traditions.
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.
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.
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 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 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