This time last year, Medellín was alive with flowers, monumental public events, and civic pride.
For 61 years running, the Feria de las Flores has been the biggest event on the Medellín civic calendar — a celebration of the “silletero” culture that is emblematic of Antioquia province and the Paisas (as Antioquia natives proudly refer to themselves). In short, the Feria honors the flower farmers (silleteros) who used to walk many miles down into Medellin, carrying their wares on their backs to sell in the city markets.
Last year was our first Feria as full-time residents of Medellín, and we were determined to experience it to its fullest. It was an over-the-top, exhausting, exhilarating, and joyful celebration, and we’re grateful we had the chance to see it in all its crazy glory. Before the world changed.
Here’s our post from the 2019 Feria de las Flores. There’s a lot more here on the history of the silleteros, their significance to the Paisas, and how the Feria came to be.
Today (Sunday, Aug. 9) was the originally scheduled date for the grand Silletero Parade, the crowning act of the Feria de las Flores. But this year, for the first time since 1957, it didn’t happen. The Mayor’s Office has announced the Feria’s postponement until November, with the parade and other massive events to be presented “virtually.” Given Colombia’s current and unenviable status as a world COVID hot spot, we’ll be surprised if even that comes to pass.
Like so many other global events involving throngs of people, it’s difficult to imagine that the Feria will ever be the same once it does eventually come back. So we’ll content ourselves with memories.
Here are a few photo highlights from last year’s Feria.
The Orchid, Flower, and Artisan Fair at the Medellín Botanical Garden
The Classic Car Parade
The Grand Finale: The Silletero Parade
What About the Flower Farmers?
As we’ve said, the Feria de las Flores honors Antioquia’s flower farmers, particularly those in and around the town of Santa Elena high in the hills overlooking Medellín. Just before the COVID plague hit, we were able to visit a working flower finca (farm) in Santa Elena. It was a pleasure to meet one of the farmers and hear about his experiences as a silletero in many, many Feria de las Flores parades. Here’s a link to our post about that visit:
The Feria is a big highlight of these farmers’ year and also a main source of their income. We were wondering how they’ll be able to manage now that their beautiful wares are ready to be harvested and the Feria has been postponed. We got one answer here – a program by which the Mayor’s office is purchasing flowers and distributing them to health care workers and other essential personnel. (The article is in Spanish but easy to translate with Google.)
The pandemic may have put a damper on the Feria this year, but the silletero spirit is alive and well. Here’s a little video from the Mayor’s office from just a few days ago, honoring the flower farmers who make the trek all the way from Santa Elena down into town with their wares — just as they’ve done for 100 years. The featured silleta honors “The Heroes No One Talks About” – the teachers, construction workers, farmers, health care providers.
Our visit to the flower farm was a highlight of my wonderful visit to Colombia in February. The food was delicious, the flowers spectacular, but my favorite memory was of the smiles of our welcoming hosts!
It was a wonderful day, and the best part is that you were with us 🙂
I enjoyed the little video. The displays look quite heavy, I hope they were not been carried a long way. There has been so many events postponed and people have lost a lot of their annual income, it is so sad. But at least things are opening up here and there is a glimmer of hope for the economy. The loss of life is off course the most tragic of all.
Glad you enjoyed it, Gilda! That video brings a smile to my face every time. Last year’s parade lasted easily four hours and we were sitting toward the end of the route. By the time some of the sillateros got there, they looked absolutely exhausted (and many are not young people). Plus, it was a warm day. It’s a huge matter of pride for them to finish the parade.
Agree on the loss of life, but there is a tiny bit of light at the end of the tunnel here. Hoping we can have an easing of the quarantine and more people can get back to work soon. Hope things are better for you there in England!
Hi, John and Susan – I loved reading that the ‘sillatero spirit’ is alive and well despite the havoc that COVID has wrecked. Silverlining stories like this remind us what is possible when we creatively come together. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you for reading, Donna! We think the Feria will be back bigger and better than next year, and hopefully Colombia will be on the mend from the terrible economic damage that’s been done by the pandemic. Colombians are nothing if not resilient, so we’re cautiously optimistic about the future. Be safe!
I’m so pleased you had that opportunity to experience what sounds like a magnificent and special occasion. Let’s hope it will happen again soon. All the best…..
Thanks for reading, Muriel! The Colombians are so resilient, so we’re hopeful the Feria will be back in all its glory next year. All the best back to you 🙂
“Are you missing any big events this year because of the pandemic?” Yes! This year’s independence day celebration would have been a really big one since it’s the 75th anniversary of the Indonesian independence. Also, in early August there should have been the annual art festival in the city of Yogyakarta in Java. I went to last year’s edition and was really impressed. In these difficult times, showing support in a different way for those artists as well as the flower farmers of Medellín would help keep their spirit high, I believe.
*Sigh.* That makes me sad, Bama. There really isn’t a country in the world that hasn’t been thrown seriously off course by this terrible pandemic. You’re right, I think a lot of us are looking for ways to support the people whose livelihoods have been so drastically affected. It’s the countries that pull together, with people that work together to help each other rather than caring only for their own selfish interests and “freedoms” that will overcome this crisis. Let’s hope better days are ahead.
Wow that parade looks fabulous, especially love the classic cars. That VW camper is brilliant. You can understand why it’s been cancelled due to the huge crowds but that doesn’t stop it being sad. Such a shame for communities and visitors when annual events like this are called off. So many of them not happening in 2020 all around the world. Lets hope next year they can all kick off again. Great photos.
Thank you, Jonno! We loved the car parade last year. We found a great spot, sort of a grassy embankment right on the parade route, and hanging with the other folks watching was almost as fun as the parade itself! I loved the Magic Bus, too – it was one of my faves. Hope you’re doing well and staying safe!
I’m glad you got to experience this event last year. It looks absolutely magnificent. Thanks for sharing it. I’m currently missing the Harmony Arts Festival, held annually (until this year) that runs for 2 weeks at the waterfront near our house. It’s a fun event featuring lots of live music, food and art displays/sales. We always looked forward to hanging out with friends and enjoying a concert or two. It marked the height of our beautiful, short summer. At least the sun continues to shine!
Thanks so much, Caroline. I love events like that – art, food, music, and sunshine, and the waterfront setting must have made it extra special. Let’s hope it comes back in full swing next year!
I remember that Féria post you did last year and I’m so glad you got to experience it – and the visit to the flower farmer. Nice of the mayor to support some of these farmers. I sincerity hope the parade and the entire festival can be restored next year or in the near future. So sad that traditions like these are up in the air as well.
In my Belgian hometown, there would be a ten-day music festival going on right now if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Open-air concerts and summer festivals are big there (and a huge part of my child- and adulthood) and all of it is canceled or turned virtual, which isn’t the same. The only “big” event I’m missing out on because of Covid is the chance to visit my friends and family in Belgium this summer/year. 🙁
Thank you, Liesbet. Here’s hoping open-air music festivals will return in all their glory someday. Those are some of our favorite events. And we hope you get to see your friends and family soon!
It must have been so wonderful to attend the fair last year. I love local festivals and when we’re travelling it’s always the first thing I research. This would certainly make the list! So sad it’s cancelled this year along with so much else, but thank you for sharing this glimpse into what looks like a truly joyous event.
As for us – all the festivals in Vancouver have been cancelled of course – the folk festival, pride parade, Powell Street Japanese festival to name 3 of many. Still, life goes on, the sun shines, and we are among those lucky enough to be able to get outside as much as we want. I have no complaints. I hope you are both safe and well. Take care there in that hotspot!
Excellent attitude, Alison. We as well are keeping focused on the bright side – a secure and comfortable place to live, all the food we need, and a chance to get out every day with our pups. So many people don’t have that. And we have been having such beautiful weather here in Medellín lately. Life is good, and we are blessed! Take care as well 🙂
I hear Colombia has some beautiful flowers and I can see from your photos that it is true. Colombia’s flowers are so famous that I remember back in 2007 when I went to visit China and they were getting ready to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, they brought tons of flowers from Colombia to beautify the city of Beijing.
Thanks for visiting! Wow, that’s a cool story about the Colombian flowers in China. Flowers are one of this country’s biggest exports, so it’s not surprising that they turn up all over the world.