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.
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.
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.
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 stillalive, 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.
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 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 festivecontent 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.
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.
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.