Long into the night, the line of mourners stretched for nearly a mile, waiting their turn to file into Mexico City's majestic Palace of Fine Arts and bid farewell to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian Nobel laureate considered one of the greatest Spanish-language authors of all time.
Garcia Marquez, who died Thursday at age 87, was eulogized in a brief ceremony Monday evening in the dramatic art deco lobby by the presidents of both Mexico and Colombia, two countries linked by the writer through his birth, life, heritage and career. Though he was born in Colombia, Garcia Marquez lived in Mexico for decades and wrote some of his best-known works here, including One Hundred Years of Solitude.
"We come as admirers and friends of Gabo from all corners of the planet," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, using the nickname by which the writer was known throughout Latin America. "He will live on in his books and writings. But more than anything he will live forever in the hopes of humanity."
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said the death was "a great loss not only for literature but for humanity. Various generations … found answers to the questions of life in his stories and tales."
At the end, attendees tossed up a flurry of yellow paper butterflies, one of Garcia Marquez's most famous literary images from Solitude and his favourite colour.
Thousands passed by the simple urn holding his ashes during a three-hour tribute open to the public Monday afternoon. When the procession was closed for the ceremony, a crowd remained outside demanding to pay respects to their beloved Gabo. After the eulogies, the building was reopened and the procession resumed.
"Gabo was a watershed in my life," said Nelly Hernandez, a 52-year-old teacher holding a pair of yellow paper butterflies. "He taught me to relish life through literature."
Before the formal ceremony, applause thundered for several minutes after Garcia Marquez's ashes were placed on a black pedestal by his widow, Mercedes Barcha, and his two sons, Gonzalo and Rodrigo. Dignitaries, friends and artists took turns as honour guards.
A quartet played some of Garcia Marquez's favourite classical composers, including Hungary's Bela Bartok and Italy's Giovanni Bottesini. A musical trio passed in front of the urn to play upbeat, accordion-laced vallenato, the music native to Colombia's Caribbean coast where Garcia Marquez grew up.
He once said One Hundred Years of Solitude was a vallenato of 400 pages.
"This is my chance to accompany Garcia Marquez," said Lorena Moreno, 40, originally from Barranquilla, Colombia, where the author spent part of his early years. A resident of Mexico for seven years, she said that whenever she is homesick for her country, she rereads Garcia Marquez's work.
The writer's birthplace in Colombia, Aracataca, held a symbolic funeral Monday.
About 3,000 people joined in a procession that started at his childhood home, now a museum dedicated to his life and work, and went to the church in the centre of town, then to the town cemetery and back to the museum. They carried hundreds of yellow flowers and yellow paper butterflies.
Garcia Marquez's family has not said what will do with his ashes. Colombia has said it would like at least some of the ashes to go to his homeland.
"Aracataca gave so much to Gabito … that we want some of his ashes to be here," said Jorge Polo Camargo, head of protocol in the town.