Mexico and Colombia hold Gabriel Garcia Marquez memorials

President Juan Manuel Santos: "The world knows about Colombia because of Garcia Marquez"

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Mexico and Colombia have held public commemorations for Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died on Thursday in Mexico City aged 87.

The presidents of Colombia and Mexico attended a formal ceremony in Mexico City, where Garcia Marquez lived for more than three decades.

Earlier, residents in his home town of Aracataca in Colombia's Caribbean region held a symbolic funeral.

He was considered the finest writer of the Spanish language since Cervantes.

Garcia Marquez was cremated at a private family ceremony in Mexico City last week.

At the scene

Although it was a memorial ceremony, this wasn't just a solemn occasion. Outside the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, thousands of fans of Garcia Marquez waited patiently to pay their respects.

Some held yellow roses, others clutched copies of his books. Around the palace there was music, Colombian flags, book readings and smiles. Perhaps because he'd left so much for his loyal readers to enjoy after he'd gone, saying goodbye to "El Gabo" didn't have to be a sad day. Rather many had come to say "thank you for everything".

One woman in the queue told me she was heartened to see so many young people coming out to honour him. It was a sign, she said, that his literature would last long after his death.

Ordinary readers and political leaders were all fulsome in their praise of their favourite author. Earlier in the day, I spoke to the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, who again described Garcia Marquez as simply the greatest Colombian who ever lived, and said he felt honoured to call him a friend.

A funeral cortege took the urn containing his ashes from his house to the historic centre of the Mexican capital, where the memorial ceremony was held.

It was placed on the podium of the majestic Palace of Fine Arts, which is where Mexico pays tribute to its late artistic icons.

The ornate cultural venue was adorned with yellow flowers, the author's favourite, and musicians also performed some of his favourite pieces.

Thousands of admirers filed past the urn, and joined the author's wife, Mercedes Barcha, and sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo, to say their goodbyes.

The event was also attended by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos.

"He was probably the greatest Colombian we have had in our history," President Santos told the BBC's Will Grant in an exclusive interview.

"The world knows about Colombia through Gabriel GarcĂ­a Marquez. He represented what Colombia is in many ways. His magic realism is - and he said it - is not an invention. It's a description of what Colombia is."

Earlier, Colombia held a ceremony of its own in Garcia Marquez's birthplace of Aracataca, the inspiration for Macondo, the setting for his 1967 seminal masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, which sold millions of copies around the world.

The family of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, (L-R) son Gonzalo Garcia, wife Marcedes Barcha, and son Rodrigo Garcia, in front of the urn containing his ashes, April 21, 2014. Garcia Marquez's wife, Mercedes Barcha, and sons, Rodrigo (L) and Gonzalo, stood in front of the urn containing the author's ashes
People wait outside the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico City on April 21, 2014 Many admirers waited outside the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City to pay tribute to the author
'Special legacy'

A local resident Elvia Vizconte said the novelist would be remembered for generations to come.

"He was a very important person here in Aracataca. And now he leaves us a very special legacy for new generations, his novels, his tales, his stories," she told the Associated Press news agency.

On Tuesday, the Colombian government will hold a formal ceremony at the main cathedral in the capital Bogota, an event which will be televised.

Then on Wednesday, Colombians will have readings of Garcia Marquez's novel No One Writes to the Colonel in hundreds of libraries, parks and universities across the country.

Boys from a music band attend a symbolic funeral in Aracataca, Monday, April 21, 2014 Garcia Marquez is also being remembered in his hometown of Aracataca in Colombia
A man holds a copy of One Hundred Year of Solitude during a symbolic funeral in Aracataca, Monday, April 21, 2014. The author's birthplace gave him the inspiration for the setting for his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude

The BBC's Arturo Wallace in Bogota says there was some sadness in Colombia that the first main event to commemorate Garcia Marquez was taking place in Mexico rather than his country of origin.

The BBC's Will Grant in Mexico City: "A day of colour and national identity"

But Colombians also understand that he made Mexico his home and, despite his frequent trips to Colombia, they were used to his absence, our correspondent adds.

The writer fled Colombia in 1981 after learning that the country's military wanted to question him over links to left-wing guerrillas.

Fellow writers, politicians and cultural figures from around the world paid tribute to the author.

He achieved fame for pioneering magical realism, a unique blending of the marvellous and the mundane in a way that made the extraordinary seem routine.

With his books, he brought Latin America's charm and teeming contradictions to life in the minds of millions of people.

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