Every August, hundreds of thousands of spectators flock to Medellín, Colombia, to see the Feria de las Flores, the world’s most elaborate flower festival.
The stars of the festival are the silleteros who carry elaborate flower arrangements known as silletas (which roughly translates as “little chairs”) down Medellín’s Avenida del Río. The parade was founded in 1957 with fewer than 50 silleteros. Today, more than 500 participate.
After two years of online competition and abbreviated displays due to Covid-19, in 2022 more than 800,000 people attended the parade.
Silleteros plan their designs a year in advance and spend the weeks before the festival gathering the flowers they need. Many use hundreds of different flowers in their designs.
Colombia is the world’s second-largest exporter of flowers after the Netherlands, and supplies the majority of cut flowers to the United States.
José Angel Zapata Amariles of Finca Silletera El Pensamiento is a third-generation silletero, a term that applies only to natives of the Santa Elena region. The skills required to design and build the arrangements are handed down through generations.
Mr. Zapata Amariles picks flowers on his family’s farm, preparing to make his silleta later that evening.
The week before the festival, tourists arrive at participating family farms, many of which have small living room museums where they display winning ribbons from prior years. The night before the parade is a lively scene. Families work together to build the silletas that will be carried in the parade by one designated sillatero silletero. Here, Juan Carlos Grajales Alzate works on his silleta.
Participants can build the skeletons of their arrangements well in advance, but the fragility of flowers requires that the rest of the piece be constructed the night before.
The parade started with traditional silletas. As it evolved, more categories were added to award even more elaborate arrangements, some representing familiar objects or characters.
Local and national dance troupes perform for the crowds. Enthusiastic spectators waited for hours in heavy rain showers to see the parade.
Silletas are judged across seven categories: traditional, monumental, artistic, emblematic, commercial, junior and children’s. A panel of judges awards scores based on aesthetics, creativity, variety and type of flowers used, adherence to size and volume standards, the dress of the silletero, and on the judges’ personal taste.