MEXICO CITY (AP) — With two heads of state and thousands of tearful admirers, Mexico bid farewell on Monday to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian Nobel laureate considered one of the greatest Spanish-language authors of all time.
The ashes of the author, who died Thursday at age 87, were received at Mexico City's majestic Palace of Fine Arts to several minutes of thunderous applause after being placed on a black pedestal by his widow, Mercedes Barcha, and his two sons, Gonzalo and Rodrigo.
He was eulogized in a brief ceremony 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.
"We come as admirers and friends of Gabo from all corners of the planet," said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, using the nickname by which Garcia Marquez 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. Eternal glory to someone who has given us so much glory," Santos added.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said the writer's 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."
Attendees released a flurry of yellow paper butterflies, one of Garcia Marquez's most famous literary images from "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and the author's favorite color.
Garcia Marquez lived in Mexico for decades and wrote some of his best-known works here, including "Solitude."
Before the speeches, thousands of people stood in a line stretching more than a kilometer (a half mile) waiting for their turn to pass by the simple urn decorated with yellows roses during a three-hour tribute open to the public.
Dignitaries, friends and artists took turns as honor guards, including Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera and Rafael Tovar y de Teresa, president of Mexico's National Council for Culture and the Arts.
"Gabo was a watershed in my life," said Nelly Hernandez, a 52-year-old teacher who was waiting outside the Palace of Fine Arts for the doors to open, holding a pair of yellow paper butterflies. "He taught me to relish life through literature."
A quartet played some of Garcia Marquez's favorite classical composers, including Hungary's Bela Bartok and Italy's Giovanni Bottesini. A musical trio passed in front of the urn to play some accordion-laced vallenato, the music native to Colombia's Caribbean coast and beloved by the world-famous author who grew up there.
Garcia Marquez once said "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was a vallenato of 400 pages.
The writer's birthplace in Colombia, the town of Aracataca on the Caribbean coast, held a symbolic funeral Monday.
Some 3,000 people joined in a procession from his childhood home, now a museum dedicated to his life and work, to the church in the center of town, then to the town cemetery and back to the museum.
Mourners carried hundreds of yellow flowers and yellow paper butterflies, a reference to the character Mauricio Babilonia, who was always trailed by a cloud of yellow butterflies. Aracataca was the basis for the fictional village of Macondo, now iconic in world literature from the novel that has sold tens of millions of copies in dozens of languages.
On Wednesday, Colombia plans a marathon reading this week of Garcia Marquez's work "No One Writes to the Colonel."
Family members have not said what they plan to 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.
Associated Press writer Cesar Garcia in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.