A "high priestess" in white, basked in bright sunshine, lit the Olympic flame yesterday at the sacred site of ancient Olympia.
The flame for the Beijing Games was ignited in a traditional sun-ray ceremony in front of Hera Temple, raising the curtain on the torch relay - which will span an epic 130-day, 137,000-km journey around the world.
Although dark clouds shadowed the rehearsals in previous days, the sunshine broke out just in time to help Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, portraying the High Priestess, light the first torch out of a concave mirror at about 11:45 am local time.
Prior to the lighting, Nafpliotou and 20 priestesses - all wearing pleated white dresses and sandals - performed an ancient ritual.
"Today will lead to the opening of the first ever Olympic Games in China, where one-fifth of the world's population is longing for them," said Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, at the ceremony.
"The messengers will be citizens, young or old, able or disabled, athletes and members of the Olympic Movement, who are all eager to promote what each one of us can contribute to a better world," he said.
Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), said at the ceremony: "The flame will travel over mountains and seas across the globe, our common homeland.
"The Olympic flame will radiate light and happiness, peace and friendship, and hopes and dreams to the people of China and the whole world."
At the end of the ceremony, Greek athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis - the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in taekwondo (80kg) - received the flame from Nafpliotou to start this torch relay in Greece.
On the Greek leg, it will pass through 16 prefectures, 43 municipalities, 12 municipal districts and four communities in the hands of 605 torchbearers. En route, a total of 29 ceremonies will be held to celebrate the flame.
On the first day of the relay, nine Chinese torchbearers took part, including Olympic swimming gold medalist Luo Xuejuan and former world table tennis champion Deng Yaping.
The Olympic flame will be handed over to BOCOG at 3 pm local time on March 30 at the Panathenian Stadium in Athens.
The flame will arrive in Beijing on March 31, where a grand welcome ceremony will be held at Tian'anmen Square.
The flame will visit 21 cities outside the Chinese mainland and travel across 113 cities of all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in the mainland until it returns to Beijing on August 6.
1. How was the Olympic flame lit?
2. What is the distance the Olympic torch will travel?
3. How many cities will the flame visit outside of China?
1.By using a concave mirror.
（英语点津 Celene 编辑）
About the broadcaster:
Bernice Chan is a foreign expert at China Daily Website. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Bernice has written for newspapers and magazines in Hong Kong and most recently worked as a broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, producing current affairs shows and documentaries.