This is Medellin, Where everything flourishes.
What is the Feria de Las Flores?
The Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival) held in Medellin is one of the largest festivals in Colombia, themed around the country’s flower growing culture. Held over 10 days the festival is a combination of parades, music, gastronomy, art, artisanal products and of course a lot of partying.
The information about the Feria de las Flores in 2023 will be discussed below but first a little background.
History Of The Feria De Las Flores
After Netherlands, Colombia is the second largest exporter of flowers in the world, exporting about $1.4 billion dollars of flowers a year, 75% of which are exported to the United States. Most of the flowers are grown in the Antioquia region, of which Medellin is the capital. The cultural epicentre of flower growing is the small town of Santa Elena an easy 40-minute drive from the centre of Medellin.
The Feria de las Flores started in 1957 to commemorate Colombia’s flower growing success. From very humble beginning the flower festival has grown into one of Colombia’s largest festivals with over 30,000 people attending from around the country and overseas. About 60% of visitors to the festival come from other parts of Colombia and the other 40% are international visitors. Despite these numbers the festival still feels pretty much a local affair.
The main event of the festival is the Desfile de Silleteros (explanation in the next section) which is traditionally held on the final day of the festival. Other events include the classic car parade, a Harley Davidson and classic bikes rally, concerts by popular artists, culturally themed musical nights, and a sprinkling of international guests. In addition, there are a multitude of events being held around the city to celebrate the festival which include flower displays, artisan bazaars, cultural displays, art exhibitions, special themed clubbing nights and a load of events that just exist to have fun, listen to good music and get drunk.
What’s a Silletero?
To understand the importance of the festival it’s important to know what a Silletero is since the Desfile de Silleteros (Silleteros Parade) is the pièce de resistance of the festival and showcases what is considered the most historic and cultural symbol of Antioquia.
These days the term Silletero is used to refer to the flower farmers that during the festival make elaborate flower displays and parade them through the streets as can be seen in the final event of the feria. The silleteros are classified with the status “Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Nation” highlighting them as an important cultural symbol that should be classified and protected for future generations.
The name Silletero comes from the word Silla, which means chair in Spanish. The history of the Silletero in Colombia dates back to the early 20th Century when a type of seat, called a Silleta (“a small chair”) was mounted on the backs of farmers (various historical reports say this practice started with slaves and indigenous) in order to carry people through difficult terrains. The Silleta was later used to transport goods from farms to markets.
In the case of the Silleteros of Santa Elena they made use of these Silletas to transport their fruits, vegetables and of course flowers through a difficult journey down into the valley of Medellin finally reaching the Placita de Flores (Flower Market). The market opened in 1891 and is still operating today and worth a visit if you want to experience a traditional local market.
During the Feria de las Flores the Silleteros would mount their Silletas with displays of the flowers that they grow on their farms. Over the years these flower displays grew more elaborate and extravagant. There is massive rivalry between the Silleros to see who will be crowed the best Silletero at the final parade of the festival.
At the Feria de las Flores look out for 5 main types of Silletas:
- Traditional Silletas: these are the closest representation to the ones used by the farmers back in the early 20th century. It’s a simple box made of light wood in which a minimum of 15 or more fresh flowers (not artificial, dyed or painted) varieties are displayed.
- Emblematic Silletas: dried flowers are arranged in illustration form with a message allusive to a religious, civil, environment of educational topic.
- Monumental Silletas: these are considered to be an evolution of the traditional Silleta. Characterized for being the largest and most colorful of all the silletas, they consist of at least 20 varieties of fresh flowers and can weigh up to 100kg and be more than 4 meters in diameter.
- Institutional or Corporative Silletas: These are commercially sponsored silletas paid for by large corporations and brands. You can see some of them in the parade but they are not part of the awards process. If you visit Medellin during the feria you will also see many proudly displayed in shopping malls, in offices and restaurants, especially in touristy areas such as Provenza. This is the only type of silleta that allows the use of dyed flowers in order to achieve the required designs.
- Artistic Silletas: these are based on the creativity and imagination of the Silleteros and are often 3D in form, with certain limitations on what materials they can use.
The best way to see the silletas is at the Desfile de Silleteros which is the final event of the Feria de las Flores. During this parade over 500 Silleteros of all ages will be walking the 2.4 kilometre route with their silletas on their backs.
If you can’t make the parade it will be televised on local tv stations and most likely on the facebook page of the Alcaldia de Medellin (Mayors office) and Telemedellin. During the festival you’ll see silletas at many other locations and after the final parade the silletas will be on public display for a few days afterwards.
Feria de las Flores 2023
Medellín will be partying again during the 66th annual Feria de las Flores 2023 (Flower Festival) which takes place from 28th July to 7th August 2023. Organized by the Mayor’s office this year’s festival will feature more than 140 public activities, in 35 locations in which 3,000 local, national and international artists will perform. There will be cultural and artistic programming from all over Colombia as well as invited artists from outside of Colombia.
In addition to the official Feria de las Flores 2023 events there are also numerous private events including concerts, festivals, cultural events at shopping malls, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. There are literally hundreds of events happening around the city, so even if you’re not attending the parade or other official events, you’re bound to bump into some sort of activity related to the festival.
You can find the complete program on the official website of the Feria de Las Flores 2023. The program is also available to be downloaded here. Although this is the large public event on the Medellin calendar and very popular with tourists, unfortunately the official program is rather confusing, it’s missing detailed information about events, locations, some of the times are incorrect and there is no English translation.
For more information and daily updates check out Facebook group THINGS TO DO IN MEDELLIN.
It should be remembered most of the main events will be broadcast by the public television channel Telemedellín and associated facebook pages, including the Silleteros Parade, Classic Car Parade, the Final of the Trova Festival and most of the public musical concerts. If you don’t like crowds, or it’s raining heavy, you can turn on Telemedellin or facebook and see what’s happening at the feria without leaving the sofa.
Recommendations: Some of the events have a capacity of up 50,000 people so we recommend taking public transport, especially the Metro, where possible. Be aware that there are pickpockets everywhere, so take the necessary precautions with your personal possessions. Traffic in Medellin will be affected by the feria due to road closures and the number of tourists in town so it may take longer than usual to get taxis, Uber etc. As expected hotel occupation is at 95% during the feria. The drinking hours have been legally extending during the festival so expect more partying and noise during this period.