The first torchbearer, 2020 Olympic rowing gold medallist Stephanos Ntouskos, receives the flame from Greek actress Mary Mina. GETTY IMAGES

The sacred flame for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games was lit on Tuesday in Olympia, Greece, the birthplace of the ancient Games, in a ceremony inspired by antiquity and marked by messages of hope amid multiple global crises.

"In ancient times, the Olympic Games brought together the Greek city-states, even - and especially - in times of war and conflict," said Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"Today, the Olympic Games are the only event that brings the whole world together in peaceful competition. Then as now, the Olympic athletes send a powerful message: yes, it is possible to compete fiercely against each other and at the same time live together peacefully under one roof," he added.

Because of cloudy weather, Greek actresses dressed as ancient priestesses used a flame lit in a rehearsal on Monday at the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera, near the stadium where the Olympics were born in 776 BC.

Carrying the flame in a pot, Greek actress Mary Mina lit the torch for the first bearer, 2020 Olympic rowing champion Stefanos Ntouskos. Retired French swimmer Laure Manaudou, who won her first gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, followed as France's first Olympic torchbearer.

Officials insisted on Tuesday that the Paris Games will set new milestones, following in the footsteps of the two previous Olympics held in the French capital. "The Olympic Flame will shine over the first Olympic Games inspired from start to finish by the reforms of our Olympic Agenda," Bach insisted.

"These Olympic Games will be younger, more inclusive, more urban and more sustainable. They will be the first ever Olympic Games with full gender parity, because the IOC has allocated exactly 50 per cent of the places to female and male athletes," he stressed.

The President of the Paris Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, Tony Estanguet, also saw the forthcoming Games as "more than ever a force of inspiration (...) for all of us and for future generations".

For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic forced toned-down events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Beijing 2022 Winter Games, the ceremony returned to full regalia and a large crowd.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo were among those in attendance. American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato sang the Olympic anthem.

The torch dates back to the ancient Olympics, when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games, a tradition that was revived for the 1936 Games in Berlin. During the 11-day relay on Greek soil, some 600 torchbearers will carry the flame over a distance of 5,000 kilometres (3,100 miles) through 41 municipalities.

The Olympic flame will be handed over to the Paris 2024 organisers on 26 April in a ceremony at the all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Nana Mouskouri, the 89-year-old Greek singer with an international following, has been invited to perform at the ceremony.

On 27 April, the flame will travel to France aboard the 19th-century three-masted ship Belem, which was launched just weeks after the 1896 Athens Games. A French historical monument, the Belem sailed for almost two decades on trade voyages to Brazil, Guyana and the Caribbean.

The last surviving three-masted, steel-hulled ship in France, it is expected to arrive in Marseille on 8 May. 10,000 torchbearers will then carry the flame through 64 French regions. It will pass through 400 towns and dozens of tourist attractions during its 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) journey through mainland France and French overseas territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific.

It will be the centrepiece of the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics on 26 July, which is planned to be held on the banks of the Seine - the first time it has been held outside the main stadium of the Games.

However, French President Emmanuel Macron admittedon Monday that it could be moved to the national stadium in the event of a security threat. Macron said that instead of the teams sailing down the Seine on barges, the ceremony could be "limited to the Trocadero" building across the river from the Eiffel Tower or "even moved to the Stade de France".