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Olympic Flame Lighting

Greek light travels the world

Ancient Olympia, July 20, 1936, 12 noon.

The Olympic Flame is alight for the very first time by the Greek sun at the sacred and historic site of Ancient Olympia.

Ever since, the unique event of the Flame Lighting Ceremony has acted as herald for the Olympic Games worldwide. The Sacred Flame travels the country where the games are to be held and burns for as long as the Olympic Games last, as a strong reminder of the land that gave birth to them.

The ritual of the Lighting, in simplicity and mystagogy, starts with the procession of the priestesses from the Altar of Hera, in front of the goddess’s temple. Dressed in archaic-style clothing, priestesses surround the Altar while the High-priestess, invoking god Apollo, lights the torch, using a concave mirror. According to the Myth of Promytheus, the fire is the symbol of life, rationalism and freedom as well as inventiveness and so had been the ageless flame that used to burn on the Altar of Prytaneion in Ancient Olympia.

Olympic Flame Lighting photo by Messinnis

Then, the High Priestess relays the flame in a small ceramic pot and heads to the Stadium with all priestesses in procession. They pass by the Olive Tree, where they stand for a moment and “Amphithalis Pais”, the young boy (whose both parents are alive) cuts off an olive branch, as a symbol of peace and a meaningful winner’s prize. When the procession arrives at the Stadium, the High Priestess lights the torch of the first runner and the torch relay begins. The Olympic flame travels to many places and becomes the connecting bond among people, sending the message of hope.

Let’s listen to the thoughts and feelings of the High Priestess in anticipation of the unique event of the Olympic Flame Lighting Ceremony, which is to be held on May 10, and will draw the humanity’s attention to Olympia.

“… just a while before the sun sends its rays to light the flame of the Olympic Games, thousands of images and feelings come before my eyes and my soul abounds in them…... A great culture, which once gave birth to ideas, values, important advocates of those ideas and events, enriches the course of history and humanity. The light of Olympia signals the creative force in the hearts of people which generates culture. The flame; a force of nature, a symbol of life and a source of inspiration.
….how many feelings, how many unique moments in the cycle of priestesses who convey images from the past, symbolisms, the concept of art……

Olympic flame photo by Messinis


“Sacred silence
Let the sky, the earth, the sea and the winds sound.
Mountains fall silent
Sounds and birds’ warbles cease
For Phoebus, the light bearer King shall keep us company…”

…waiting for the moment that these words will sound in the sacred land of Olympia, carrying the essence of the team’s soul in my voice and the power of its heart in my hand… just before the invocation to Apollo who will send the rays of the sun and to Zeus who will bestow peace to all peoples on earth and will wreath-crown the winners of the sacred race…”

Ino Menegaki

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