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The Olympic Torch journey on the “Vespucci” Navy Ship

Tecnica, professione e società - Stefania Elena Carnemolla

Roma,  3 settembre 2012

In 1956, the CONI (Italian National Olympic Committee) set up the Olympic Torch Committee for working out specific duties which were basically the organisation of the Olympic Torch relay and the recruiting of torch-bearers. Of the first problems which the Committee had to face, the most important was the selection of the itinerary for the journey of the Flame from Olympia to Rome. In view of the time factor and the length of the course involved, it was decided not to adopt an exclusively overland course which would have led from the Balkan peninsula to Trieste and thence across Italian territory to Rome. It therefore became necessary to adopt an itinerary which would include the crossing of the Ionian Sea to a port on the peninsula. An itinerary which would join the two apexes of classical civilisation, Athens and Rome, and which would pass through the sites of Magna Grecia. The first part of the journey took place completely in Greek territory, and thence, by sea, the torch was brought to Italy, at Syracuse.
On 12th August 1960 the historic ceremony of the kindling of the sacred Flame took place at Olympia. Operations commenced in the Temple of Zeus. The Greek actress Aleka Katseli, wearing the clothes of an ancient Priestess, held a lens over the torch placed in a classical Greek vase and in a few seconds the sun light set fire to the torch. Before proceeding with the kindling of the flame, the Priestess said a prayer to Zeus that the “rays of Phoebus” should kindle the “sacred torch”. As soon as the torch was lit, it was carried in procession to the ancient Temple of Hera. The priestess then handed it over to the first runner, Penaghoitis Epitropoulos; the Greek athlete received the torch and immediately started to run in the direction of Athens. The course was undertaken by a relay organized by the Greek Olympic Committee and passed through Pyrgos, Patras, Corinth, Megara and Eleusis. On the 13th August, the Flame was handed over to Prince Constantine of Greece in Panathinaiko Stadium, during the night the symbolic Flame passed to a cadet of the Italian Navy who boarded a Greek whale-boat and crossed over to the harbor of Zeas near Piraeus and brought it aboard the training-ship "Amerigo Vespucci". The tripod burning fuel lit by the Olympic Torch remained on board closely guarded day and night.
The handing over of the Flame was effected by applying torch to torch, to the accompaniment of great popular enthusiasm which this race aroused. All the centers along the course witnessed scenes of great enthusiasm on the part of the population. Colorful spectacular scenes of festivity were the rule at the passage of the Torch. Everywhere flowers, fireworks, the ringing of church bells and thousands of young people greeted the Flame. The torch arrived in Rome the night of 24th, and it burnt on the Capitoline Hill tripod all night long. The day after the last athlete of the Relay – Giancarlo Peris - proceeded to light the tripod of the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony. Then the discus thrower Adolfo Consolini recited the Olympic Oath holding in his left hand a corner of the Italian flag providing full justice to the spiritual significance of this event. The contribution of the Armed Forces, through the Olympic Military Group established in 1957, was crucial to the arrangement of the relay.