Paradise of a Unique Kind in Medellin, Colombia
by Bil Howard
For many, the vision of paradise involves tropical beaches, palm trees, sipping an exotic tropical cocktail, and watching the sunset beyond the waves. Others prefer to escape the salty air, sweating, and sand chafing for a more refreshing clime and the prospect of eternal springtime; for this latter group, Medellin, Colombia is a paradise of a unique kind.
Gone from Medellin are the days of Pablo Escobar and the drug cartels which held this mountain paradise in its grip. In their place, as though the hardy people of the Aburra Valley found their wings and took flight, is a modern, thriving city, which is growing at a breakneck pace. Enriched by its history, its culture, and its tranquil beauty, the City of Eternal Spring is no longer a locale to avoid, but a place to embrace.
A Brief History of Medellin
The Aburra Valley in which Medellin is located was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 1540’s and settled shortly thereafter by Spanish Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Though it was originally a Jewish settlement, Catholicism found its way to the Aburra Valley and applied a name of its own to the settlement and along with the establishment of a church here in 1675. We are very fortunate that Medellin’s name was shortened to what it is today, because it was a mouthful; Villa de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de Medellín.
The Last Stand in Colombia’s Struggle for Independence
Because of its rugged terrain, the area around Medellin was among the last hide-outs of the Spanish during Colombia’s struggle for independence. A group of Colombian revolutionaries were led by an area native, Jose Maria Cordoba (for whom Medellin’s international airport is named), to hunt for and eliminate the last Spanish resistance in the Aburra Valley. Their particularly ruthless task gave the Batallón de Casadores (Battalion of Hunters) a place of honor in Colombia’s military history.
Antioquia and Antioqueños
Labeled according to the name given to the department or province, Antioquia (Antioch), the residents became known as Antioqueños. Antioqueños, by sheer necessity were mountaineers who lived a simple, independent lifestyle calling for simple innovations. It is a mindset which has not died out entirely with modernization.
The Silleta and Silleteros
Isolated from the rest of the country by a geography, which includes steep slopes with thick vegetation, the Antioqueños developed a unique culture and colloquial language referred to as Paisa. One of the most unique cultural elements of Medellin’s cultural history developed out of simplicity and necessity; the silleta. A silleta is, quite literally, a silla or chair, which was and is carried on the back of a sillatero. It was used to transport people or altered slightly to transport goods or produce. The silleta and silletero is still celebrated in Medellin today.
The Celebration of Culture in Medellin
Pasias, as they are more commonly referred to today, are very proud of their heritage. Not only do they not stray too far from it, but they thoroughly enjoy celebrating it as well. There are numerous festivals and cultural events taking place in Medellin and the nearby pueblos and municipalities throughout the year.
The Main Event: La Feria de Los Flores
Among those celebrations of culture is La Feria de Los Flores or the Flower Fair. A major influx of tourism descends upon Medellin during the first week of August every year to help celebrate this event. Besides the celebration of the cultural history behind the silleta and sillateros, musical and artistic events take place all over Medellin for a week to ten days. A horse parade and an auto parade are major draws, which all lead up to the culminating event; the Parade of Sillateros.
Christmas Extravagance with an Ironic Twist
One thing about Paisas and Antioqueños that can’t be dismissed is their love for extravagance. Christmas is one time when that extravagance takes on its most conspicuous display with lights and celebrations which only begin to fizzle out after the coming of the New Year.
Christmas opens up at midnight on December 1st with the Festival of Lights and the Alumbrado, and continues through the middle of January. There is an ironic twist to it all, which is partly coincidence and partly a testament to the rebellious nature of Paisas. The Alumbrado, in which fireworks light up the sky at the stroke of midnight and continue for about an hour from one end of the valley to the other, also happens to be the birthday of Medellin’s most notorious resident; Pablo Escobar.
Major Celebrations Throughout the Year
Though the Flower Fair and Christmas are the main events celebrated in Medellin, there are other major celebrations throughout the year which include:
- A poetry fair in early July.
- The Festival of Lies and Humor in late July.
- The International Jazz Festival in September.
- The Fair of Artesans in November.
- The Santa Elena Wine Fair in December.
Beauty and Tranquility in Medellin
Medellin is a unique paradise full of beauty and tranquility. The lush greenery of its green slopes and its moderate climate have earned Medellin the appropriate nickname, The City of Eternal Spring. Rainfall, sunshine and cool mountain air combine to make every day feel like one of renewal and of promise waiting right around the next corner.
The spring-like climate makes it pretty easy to find a place to take in the beauty of nature. Besides a number of botanical and ecological parks in and around Medellin, there are plenty of places in the surrounding mountains which have the feel of never having been tread upon by the foot of man.
A Beautiful and Hopeful People
The more evident witness to Medellin’s beauty and tranquility is found in its beautiful and hopeful people. Not only are Paisas some of the most physically attractive people you’ll encounter, but they are also tend to be very happy and optimistic about what tomorrow will bring. They eagerly serve their neighbors and guests, especially foreign visitors, and are very often ready to celebrate today while looking forward to tomorrow.
Wrapping It Up
We’ve really only scratched the surface of the many attributes which make Medellin a paradise of a unique kind. The City of Eternal Spring is a place of beauty and tranquility, which has a rich past not quickly forgotten and a hopeful outlook on what is coming tomorrow. Its people and their traditions are unique to other parts of Colombia as well as the rest of the world. If you’re one who prefers a more refreshing clime over chafing and salty air, then come to Medellin, your paradise awaits.