French 19th-century three-masted barque Belem sails near the port of Marseille. GETTY IMAGES

Amidst tight security measures and shows of emotion from some 150,000 Olympic enthusiasts, the 19th-century three-masted barque Belem docked at the Mediterranean port just 12 days after it departed from Greece with the flame set to highlight the Paris 2024 Games.

The torch’s arrival was the first major test for organisers and security forces ahead of the July 26 Inauguration Ceremony and marked the start of a 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) torch relay across France and its far-flung overseas territories. Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Florent Manaudou carried the torch from the deck of the Belem to French soil, then passed it along to Paralympic champion sprinter Nantenin Keita, who handed it over to French rapper Jul in order for him to light the Olympic cauldron. The flame was originally lit in Athen’s Olympia on April 16.

President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the French Olympians who escorted the torch aboard the Belem. “With the arrival of the flame, the country enters the Games,” Macron announced in grandiose fashion. The boat reached the host country’s coast early and paraded around the bay of Marseille with hundreds of other vessels, sparking Olympic enthusiasm 79 days from the Paris opening ceremony. The marina from the historic Southern city of France will host the sailing events during the Olympics.

"It's something we've been waiting for for a very long time. The Games are coming home," chief Paris 2024 organiser Tony Estanguet said on Monday, referring to the 100 years since the capital city last staged the Olympics. On Wednesday. The ex Olympic canoeing triple gold medallist went a bit further. “As a former athlete, I know how important the start of a competition is. That is why we chose Marseille, because it’s definitely one of the cities most in love with sports,” he stated.

France, which was also the host in 1900, sees itself at the heart of the modern Olympic movement after a French aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, revived the idea of the Games as practised by the Greeks until the 4th century BC.

The French Air Force elite acrobatic flying team. GETTY IMAGES
The French Air Force elite acrobatic flying team. GETTY IMAGES

As the Belem entered the Old Port surrounded by hundreds of small boats, planes from the Patrouille de France display team swooped overhead tracing the Olympic rings in the sky before they returned to paint the red, white and blue of the French flag in the air.

With organisers expecting around 150,000 people to watch the flame's arrival in person, French authorities mobilised some 6,000 security forces to ensure that nothing went wrong on Wednesday, as terrorist threats and protest are a major source of concern while the Games approach. "It's completely unprecedented for the national police to mobilise so many people on the same day at the same place," regional police coordinator Cedric Esson told reporters on Monday.

Besides Manaudou. other stars are set to take part in the parade, which will continue in Marseille on Thursday. They include NBA Champion Tony Parker and Ivory Coast football great Didier Drogba, a former striker for the coastal city’s Ligue 1 team.

Extremely tight security will be a constant feature as the torch travels through more than 450 French towns and cities and passes by dozens of tourist attractions, including the Mont Saint Michel. Around 200 members of the security forces are set to be positioned permanently around it, including an anti-terror SWAT team and anti-drone operatives.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has referred to the risk of protests, including from far-left groups or environmental activists such as Extinction Rebellion. Organisers have promised a "spectacular" and "iconic" Olympics, with much of the sporting competitions set to take place in temporary venues around the City of Light, including at the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides.

In the absence of a much-feared security scare, the opening ceremony will take place in boats on the river Seine in a radical departure from past Games, which have opened in the main stadium. All of the major infrastructure has been completed with only two new permanent sporting venues built in a bid to reduce the financial cost and carbon emissions, although said initiatives have not avoided controversy themselves in the latter days.

The torch’s origin traces back to the ancient Olympics, when a sacred flame burned throughout the Games. The Paris Olympics will run from July 26-August 11, followed by the Paralympics from August 28-September 8.