The Belem, portrait of the three-masted ship carrying the Olympic flame

The Olympic and Paralympic Games of Paris 2024 are fast approaching. As the capital prepares to host this major event, one of the greatest symbols of this sports competition is drawing closer to France. The Olympic flame indeed left Athens on Saturday, April 27th, to set course for the city of Marseille. It will arrive in the Phocaean City on Wednesday, May 8th, aboard the Belem, an emblematic ship of French heritage. On this occasion, let’s look back at the history and multiple destinies of this majestic three-masted ship.


This 58-meter vessel was born in 1896 in the Dubigeon shipyards of Nantes. Ordered by the Crouan House, specialized in the import and export of chocolate and sugar from the Caribbean and South America, the three-master was built in less than 6 months. It was named in honor of the Brazilian port of Belem, where the Crouan family established a trading post in the early 19th century.


With its steel hull, the Belem is small, fast, and above all, sturdy. Intended for commercial campaigns, the ship can carry a load of 675 tons. From French Guiana to the Caribbean, passing through Brazil, it transports goods from around the world such as cocoa beans, rum, and sugarcane.


A Ship with Multiple Lives

In 1914, the Belem was bought by the Duke of Westminster, Lord Hugh Richard Arthur, and ceased its commercial activity. The aristocrat fitted the three-master with engines and transformed it into a yacht capable of accommodating about forty people. He also had two additional rooms built to enlarge the boat’s reception and added mahogany ornaments from Cuba.


The ship was bought again in 1921 and became the property of Sir Arthur Ernest Guinness, vice-president of breweries and a great sailing enthusiast. The Belem became Fantôme II and sailed under the British flag. Intended for cruises, it notably completed a world tour from March 29, 1923, to March 2, 1924, during which it passed through the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal.


Yet another destiny for the vessel now named Fantôme II. During World War II, it remained moored at the Isle of Wight, in the middle of the English Channel. The heirs of Arthur Ernest Guinness eventually sold the boat in 1951 to Vittorio Cini, an Italian industrialist who donated it to the students of Centro Marinaro, a center for teaching merchant marine skills, and Istituto Scilla, which housed the orphans of sailors.



The Belem thus became a school ship and was renamed Giorgio Cini, in homage to Vittorio Cini’s son. The boat was rearranged to accommodate as many students as possible. Farewell to the luxurious compartments created by the Duke of Westminster; these were transformed into a large common room serving as a dormitory, canteen, and study hall.



Deemed too old-fashioned, it was finally decommissioned in 1967 before the Italian national military police decided to take on restoration work. However, they could not fully assume this responsibility due to the significant costs involved. The boat was eventually left as a moving-in gift to the shipyard, which then put it up for sale.


The Belem finally regained its name and original homeland a few years later after being bought by the Caisse d’Épargne with the support of the French Navy. It was then entrusted to the Belem Foundation, created with the aim of allowing as many people as possible access to the ship and its heritage. The three-master, designated as a historical monument, remains today one of the last great sailing ships of the 19th century still in operation.

A Witness to History

As a flagship of French heritage, the Belem travels the world to participate in major events.


It sailed to New York for the centenary of the Statue of Liberty and in 2012, it represented France in London during Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee as well as at the Olympic Games held in the English capital. Moored on the Thames near Tower Bridge, it notably hosted the families of some French athletes.



This year, the three-master is once again participating in a significant moment. On the occasion of the Olympic and Paralympic Games of Paris 2024, its 12-day journey from Piraeus to Marseille further enriches the exceptional history of this prestigious vessel.



Featured Photo : © Belem Foundation

Passionnée par l’art dans toutes ses formes, Charline Point est une jeune journaliste animée par une curiosité féroce et une vive appétence pour la culture. Après plusieurs années dans les relations presse, Charline se lance dans le journalisme. Ses sujets de prédilection s’orientent autour du voyage, de la gastronomie, du cinéma et de la mode.


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