Olympic Flame Ancient Olympia
The High Priestess with the Olympic Flame at the Temple of Hera in Olympia. Photograph: Why Athens


Where: Ancient Olympia
When: 16 April 2024
Why Go: Witness the start of the Olympic torch relay

The Olympic flame ceremony will take place on 16th April at 11:30am on the ancient site of Olympia, in an event open to the public and televised live around the world (start time will be announced closer to the date). Around 500 torchbearers will then carry the Olympic flame on a 2,000 kilometre odyssey around Greece, before reaching the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, the site of the first modern Olympics in 1896, on the 26th  April.

Greek Olympic rowing champion Stefanos Ntouskos will be the first torchbearer in the relay that will travel from Olympia to Paris for next year’s Games. The last Greek torchbearers will be players from the men’s water polo team who won silver in Tokyo.

The flame will then leave Piraeus for Marseilles aboard the three-masted sail training ship Belem, a listed historic monument.

It will arrive in France on 8th May, just over two and a half months before the start of the Games in Paris on 26th July when it will be used to light the Olympic flame.

The first Olympic torch relay took place in 1936 when 3,000 bearers delivered it from Olympia to Berlin.

The Olympic Flame Ceremony

At the Ancient Temple of Hera, up to 30 priestesses or ‘Caryatids Korres’ will perform a series of rituals, calling on the sun god Apollo to ignite the Olympic flame using the rays of the sun and a parabolic mirror. The fire, which stays lit for the entirety of the Olympic Games period, symbolises purity and represents the values of the Olympics between nations. 

Olympic Flame Ancient Olympia

A High Priestess channels the powers of Apollo as she lights the Olympic flame during the Olympic lighting ceremony for the Rio games. Photograph: Why Athens

The short lighting ceremony at the Temple of Hera is conducted in front of television cameras and dignitaries before the flame moves to the public area of the site. Here the crowds can expect to see a symbolic and poignant display of peace and hope as the priestesses are accompanied by the male ‘Kouroi’ in a ritual of dance and ceremony to celebrate the occasion lasting around an hour.

Olympic Flame Ancient Olympia

The Kouroi and Priestesses performing at a previous ceremony. Photograph: Why Athens

Speeches are made by officials from the various Olympic committees and at the end of the ceremony, the flame is passed from this year’s high priestess onto the first torchbearer who is yet to be named and who will launch the torch relay around Greece.

Olympic Flame Ancient Olympia

The handover of the flame from the high priestess to the first torchbearer will start the relay toward Tokyo. Photograph: Why Athens

The symbolic light will pass through more than 30 towns and cities around the country before descending onto Athens approximately ten days later. There it will be handed over to host city Paris, in a ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium, and then depart to France on 27 April 2024.

Olympic Flame Ancient Olympia

The first torchbearer from the 2016 Olympic Games was cheered on by thousands as he left Ancient Olympia. Photograph: Why Athens

Why Athens Tips:

All ages welcome and the event is free to attend with the normal price of admission to the archaeological site.

Public seating is on a sloping grassed area overlooking the ceremonial area.

Picnic blankets or cushions are suggested for comfort. Bring protection from the sun including hat, glasses and sunblock.

Note: there is a dress rehearsal for the entire ceremony on the day before the official lighting where the public is able to witness the flame being lit on the parabolic mirror. The dress rehearsal will take place at approximately the same time as the actual ceremony. 

The start time is 11:30am depending on the position of the sun however we suggest arriving at Ancient Olympia by 9:30am in order to navigate the crowds and enter the venue to find a position.

Ancient Olympia is approximately a three and a half hour drive (3:30hrs) drive from central Athens.


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