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Get ready to watch the Opening Ceremony: Olympic flame

AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Get ready to watch the Opening Ceremony: Olympic flame

The Olympic flame, kindled at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece, is the dominant symbol of the Olympic Games. 

The flame for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is scheduled to be lit on April 21.  The Hellenic Olympic Committee announced high preiestess Katerina Lehou will light the flame, which will travel from Olympia's home on the Peloponnese penninsula to Athen's Panathenaic Stadium for a handover ceremony on April 27.

The origin of the Olympic flame has been traced back to a fire which burned at the Altar of Zeus during the ancient Olympic Games in Greece, and when extinguished, signaled the end of competition.

The first time a flame was lit in honor of an Olympic Games and burned until the close of competition is believed to have been in Amsterdam in 1928.

First Olympic Cauldron seen at night at Amsterdam Olympic Stadium in 1928. Credit: (C) 1928 / Comite International Olympique (CIO)


During the Opening Ceremony in 1932, organizers kindled a flame locally and lit the cauldron which still sits atop the east entrance of the Los Angeles Coliseum.

German organizers of the 1936 Olympic Games conceived the now-famous celebration of a wayfaring torch relay as a form of propaganda.

1936 Olympic torch relay Nazi Hitler Youth

Hitler youth gather to see the Olympic flame as the inaugural Olympic torch relay passes through Lustgarten, Germany. Credit: (C) 1936 / Comite International Olympique (CIO) / United Archives

While reading the 1st-century text of the life of Numa Pompilius by Plutarch, IOC member Jean Ketseas of Greece uncovered the method now used for lighting the Olympic flame. Staged in front of the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece, the Olympic flame is lit using nothing but a curved mirror, originally known as a skaphia, a fuel-filled torch, and the rays of the sun. 

German organizers held the first ceremony to light the Olympic flame in Olympia, Greece in 1936. Credit: (C) 1936 / Comite International Olympique (CIO)

Also derived from the pages of Plutarch, women reenact the flame lighting as Vestal virgins, the guardians of fire in Roman religion, and accompany a woman acting as the high priestess of Hera as she lights the Olympic flame.

The symbolic nature of the Olympic torch relay was recognized by the IOC in 1948 when it officially became part of the Olympic Movement.

To guarantee the purity of the flame which will travel to the Olympic Games, organizers light an insurance flame in Olympia on a sunny day preceding the official ceremony.

Get ready to watch the Opening Ceremony

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Olympic flame | Final torch bearer | Parade of nations

Athlete uniforms | Artistic program | Olympic flag and anthem

Olympic oath | Heads of state | Release of doves

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