Belem, a 128-year-old multicultural symbol

The flagship of French naval heritage has just left Greece, less than three months before the Paris Olympics. The three-masted ship took the Olympic flame on board and will be in Marseille on May 8.

At 128 years old THE Belem the flagship of French naval heritage, it has seen several ship owners and several lives, coming very close to oblivion and destruction before becoming a well-preserved training ship, a symbol of the know-how of the French merchant navy.

Less than three months before the start of the Paris Games, a three-masted ship set sail on Saturday morning in the Greek port of Piraeus with the Olympic flame on board for a trip to France and Marseille. The year of the first Olympic Games of the modern era, 1896, also marked the birth of the Belem, produced at the Dubigeon shipyards in Nantes. The three-masted steel hull, 58 meters long, bears the name of its trading post in Brazil. And it can carry up to 675 tons of cargo.

For this, he can rely on his parrots and cockatoos, his goblins or awnings: sails that, when raised, reach an area of ​​1200 m2. At the time, it was part of a fleet of six three-masted barges owned by the Crouan Fils shipping line. And we nickname him “yacht”because of its clean line.

From England to Italy to end up in France

Its territory is the Atlantic and transitions to the Antilles or South America. By 1914, he carried out 33 trade campaigns, transporting cocoa beans from the Amazon, rum and sugar cane to France. In 1914 she fell victim to steamship competition, and when the First World War was about to sound the death knell for commercial sailing, she was saved from abandonment by the Duke of Westminster, who converted her into a yacht. He then sold it to brewer Arthur Ernest Guinness, vice president of the eponymous breweries, who renamed it Ghost II. It was then decommissioned in 1939 on the Isle of Wight (England), where it spent five years of World War II.

In 1941 he was caught in the German bombing raids at Cowes Bay Ghost IIwhich miraculously escaped the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée in Martinique in 1902, began a new life in 1951 as a training ship for sea orphans thanks to Italy, with Victorio Cini Foundation.

And it was finally France, where in 1978 came the definitive rescue. A national subscription is launched at the initiative of the National Association for the Salvage and Conservation of Old French Ships (ASCANF), with which the Caisses d’Epargne and the French Navy are associated, and major work is being carried out on the hull. The Caisses d’Epargne finally offered the last French three-masted ship, classified as a historical monument in 1984, to the state that donated it Belém Foundation. Today, the foundation sets out its mission on its website “to welcome as many visitors as possible to the wharf”.

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