A majestic three-mast ship carried the Olympic flame into Marseille’s famed Old Port at sunset as the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, echoed from the embankment.

An Air Force fly-over marked the ship’s arrival, with planes drawing the five Olympic rings and then the red-blue-white colours of the French flag.

Tens of thousands cheered the arrival at the cordoned-off stage area on the shore, while thousands of others waved from balconies and windows overlooking the festivities.

Marseille-born rapper Jul lit the Olympic cauldron after the torch was brought to land by Florent Manaudou, France’s 2012 Olympic men’s 50 metres freestyle swimming champion.

Local rapper Jul lights the Olympic cauldron in Marseille on May 8, 2024.Local rapper Jul lights the Olympic cauldron in Marseille on May 8, 2024. © Christophe Simon, AFP

The flame’s transfer onshore marks the start of a 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) torch relay across France and its far-flung overseas territories.

Arriving in Marseille, President Emmanuel Macron met with the French Olympic athletes who have sailed on the Belem, the 19th-century ship carrying the torch.

“With the arrival of the flame, the country enters the Games,” Macron said at Olympic Marina in Marseille, a port city founded by Greek merchants.

Organisers are hoping the first public spectacle – just 79 days from the start of the Games – will help build excitement after a damaging row about ticket prices and concerns about security.

“It’s something we’ve been waiting for for a very long time,” chief organiser Tony Estanguet said Monday, referring to the 100 years since Paris last staged the Games. “The Games are coming home.”

France, which was also the host in 1900, sees itself at the heart of the modern Olympic movement after a French aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, revived the idea of the Games as practised by the Greeks until the 4th century BC.

After the Covid-hit edition in Tokyo in 2021 and the corruption-tainted Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, the Paris Olympics are seen as an important moment for the sporting extravaganza.


The Olympic torch was lit in Greece last month before it was officially handed to France and carried on board the Belem, spending 12 days at sea.

Organisers expected around 150,000 people to watch the flame’s arrival in the Marseille marina, which will host the sailing events during the Olympics.

Fireworks and a free concert were set to complete the show, broadcast live on French TV.

Thousands of firefighters and bomb disposal squads were positioned around the city along with maritime police and anti-drone teams patrolling the city’s waters and its airspace.

“It’s completely unprecedented for the national police to mobilise so many people on the same day at the same place,” regional police coordinator Cédric Esson told reporters on Monday.

A French Air Force fly-over marks the Olympic flame's arrival in the port of Marseille on May 8, 2024.A French Air Force fly-over marks the Olympic flame’s arrival in the port of Marseille on May 8, 2024. © Pierre René-Worms, France Médias Monde

From Marseille, the torch will continue on an 11-week odyssey that will see it criss-cross France and visit French overseas territories in the Caribbean as well as the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Stars set to take part in the parade, which continues in Marseille on Thursday, include NBA-winning basketball player Tony Parker and Ivory Coast football great Didier Drogba, as well as charity and entertainment figures.

There was no scheduled role for Marseille’s most famous sporting son, football legend Zinedine Zidane.

Opening ceremony 

Extremely tight security will be a constant feature as the torch travels through more than 450 French towns and cities, and passes by dozens of tourist attractions including the Mont Saint Michel.

The route of the Olympic torch relay in France.The route of the Olympic torch relay in France. © Studio graphique FMM

Around 200 members of the security forces are set to be positioned permanently around it, including an anti-terror SWAT team and anti-drone operatives.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has referred to the risk of protests, including from far-left groups or environmental activists such as Extinction Rebellion.

Organisers have promised a “spectacular” and “iconic” Olympics, with much of the sport set to take place in temporary venues around the City of Light including at the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides.

In the absence of a much-feared security scare, the opening ceremony will take place in boats on the River Seine in a radical departure from past Games which have opened in the main stadium.

All of the major infrastructure has been completed with only two new permanent sporting venues built in a bid to reduce the financial cost and carbon emissions of the global extravaganza.

The idea of the torch rally harks back to the ancient Olympics when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games.

The Paris Olympics will run from July 26-August 11, followed by the Paralympics from August 28-September 8.


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