Bagpipes and sirens welcome Olympic torch to France

Joyful crowds filled the streets of Marseille on Thursday to see torchbearers carry the Olympic flame

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Tens of thousands of people joined the party in France to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic torch in the country, one of the key moments before the start of the Paris Olympic 2024 games.

The historic three-mast barque Belem docked in Marseille having sailed the torch from Greece, the Games’ ancient home.

More than 1,000 boats accompanied the Belem on its approach to Marseille harbour, where bagpipes played and sirens sounded to mark the torch’s arrival.

Under bright sunlight, the crowd converged on the Old Port.

Organisers expected about 150,000 people to watch the flame come ashore after the ship docks on a pontoon that looks like an athletics track.

Fireworks and a free concert completed the show, which will be broadcast live on French TV.

“We are extremely proud,” Marseille Mayor Benoit Payan said. “This is where it all begins.”

After a tour of Marseille on Thursday, the torch will start a trip around towns and villages all over the country before arriving in Paris in time for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on July 26.

It will visit Mont Saint-Michel, the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy and the Versailles Palace.

Olympic Torch arrives in France - in pictures

Joyful crowds gathered along the streets to see torchbearers carrying the Olympic flame. "The enthusiasm of Marseille for the flame is phenomenal. Honestly, I have rarely seen such a celebration,” local resident Maurice Genevois said.

Magali Evrard, who came from nearby Martigues, said: “It’s been so long since we started talking about this and now we’re in it. We are on the road to Paris. We can’t wait, it’s great.” Former footballer Basile Boli kicked off the relay from the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica that overlooks the city and the sea.

“I’m very proud. You feel like you’re on top of the world, because with an Olympic flame there’s a special fervour ... it’s the symbol of sport,” he said.

Organisers hope the Marseille event, 79 days from the start of the Games, will help to build excitement.

Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said: “It’s fantastic to give that sense of pride to the French people and to show to the whole world what we’re capable to achieve. We’re going to give happiness to the whole world."

The torch was lit in Greece last month before being handed to France. It left Athens aboard the Belem, which was first used in 1896, and spent 12 days at sea.

According to myth, Marseille was founded by Greek sailors in 600BC.

“It is the founding of this city with these sailors from Greece that we will tell through the arrival of the flame,” Mr Payan said.

The welcoming ceremony included a demonstration by the Patrouille de France aerobatic team from the French Air Force.

The highly choreographed arrival ceremony was also a major test for security forces.

There was a heavy police and military presence in Marseille city centre.

Various security threats were linked to the event, including “the terrorist threat", French Interior Ministry spokeswoman Camille Chaize said.

“We're employing various measures, notably the elite National Gendarmerie Intervention Group unit, which will be present in the torch relay from beginning to end,” she said.

The Olympic cauldron will be lit after the Games’ opening ceremony, which will take place on the Seine river on July 26.

Updated: May 09, 2024, 5:05 PM