The Opening Ceremony of the inaugural European Games was staged in spectacular fashion at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, with over 2,000 performers creating a landmark moment in European sport.
In front of a capacity crowd of 68,000 enthralled spectators and a potential global audience of one billion viewers, the first European Games was officially declared open by Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
The Opening Ceremony – a spectacular display of Azerbaijan’s cultural richness and depth – also included a performance by one of the biggest names in pop music, Lady Gaga.
Azerbaijan’s rich culture was highlighted by Mehriban Aliyeva, the First Lady of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Chair of the Baku 2015 European Games Organising Committee, who said: “Azerbaijan is proud that the first European Games are being held in Baku.
“At the sacred temple of Ateshgah, the European Games’ Flame was lit and has travelled across our beautiful country, touching the hearts of every Azerbaijani along the way. It has carried a message of celebration, inspiration and unity. It is the burning spirit that brings us all together.
“Azerbaijan is a country rich in history, culture and traditions. Multiculturalism and tolerance, friendship and hospitality, harmony and solidarity are an integral part of Azerbaijani life.
“This year we host the European Games. In 2017, we will host the Islamic Solidarity Games. This demonstrates Azerbaijan’s role in the promotion of a dialogue between cultures.
“As an independent state, we are young, only 24 years old, so it is fitting that tonight’s Ceremony Countdown started from this number.
“The last 24 years have seen the rapid development, progress and modernisation of our country. Azerbaijan’s economic stability and sustainable development have allowed us to host such a big sporting event.”
She added: “I stand here proud and moved by the people of our country and all we have achieved. I thank you all for giving your heart to these Games. However far the Flame of the European Games travels in the years to come, the spirit of Azerbaijan and Baku 2015 will be there, burning brightly.”
Patrick Hickey, President of the European Olympic Committees, said: “This is the proudest moment in the history of the European Olympic Committees. Here, tonight, in Baku’s magnificent new Stadium we are witnessing – we are creating – a landmark moment in European sport – the opening of the inaugural European Games.
“Baku 2015 is the culmination of a long road, and a bold dream.
“Tonight, we add the missing fifth ring to the Continental Games of the world. And through Europe’s first Games, we bind the five continents of the Olympic Movement even closer together.”
Mr Hickey added a special message for the 6,000 competing athletes: “You will only have one chance to become the first ever European Games champion. I urge you to take it.
“I urge you to strive for excellence and compete in the true Olympic spirit of friendship and respect. And I urge you to write your names forever into Europe’s glorious sporting history.”
The stage itself, which contained six kilometers of cracks to reflect the famous mud volcano landscape of Azerbaijan, took three months to build, but will now take just three days to dismantle and prepare for the Athletics competitions that commence on 21 June.
Exclusive behind-the-scenes were revealed during the Ceremony, and a 10 minute highlight package of the show is now available.