During the Yalli, the names of all the Ceremony volunteer performers appear on the LED strip that runs around a stadium balcony, scrolling along its entire length.
Twenty thousand inflatable ‘pomegranate seeds’ cascade over the audience. They’re a token of love and good luck and a symbol of Azerbaijan.
This joyous Yalli dance brings the Opening Ceremony to a celebratory end.
As the firework display builds in intensity, we see all of this evening’s performers standing around the edge of the circular stage. They hold hands and dance Yalli – the national dance of Azerbaijan. This is their bow.
We immediately go live to the Baku coastline to see an upright circle of fire gradually form over the Caspian Sea. Fireworks fill the skies there and over the stadium – a huge celebration.
The Caspian Eclipse cauldron will burn throughout the Games – a landmark for the city.
Out of the darkness we hear a lone voice singing an improvised mugham phrase. It’s Alim Qasimov, the singer we heard at the beginning of the Ceremony.
We discover him sitting on a flying carpet that hovers and ripples in the air.
A woman walks across the cracked earth. She holds a copper dish of semeni (green sprouting wheat) in honour of Novruz – one of the most important festivals in Azerbaijan, that marks the arrival of spring.
Grass and local flowers spring up from under her feet, and her long translucent veil blows in the breeze.
When she reaches the centre, she puts down the dish where the ‘first flame’ was buried. Water begins to rise from the ground, creating a body of water – the Caspian Sea – in front of her. She slowly walks across the water.
As she reaches the outer edge of the water, she turns to look at the landscape she’s transformed behind her.
As the woman watches, 100 men rise up through the earth, covered in mud and dust. They perform a ritual-like Azerbaijani dance, stamping their feet on the ground to the rhythm of 50 drummers.
As the dance builds to a climax, sections of the ground begin to break and lift up, like an earthquake.
Huge boulders rise up from the ground to create an enormous mountain. Once fully formed, simple human figures, animals and boats are inscribed in fire on its sides. These are the petroglyphs (ancient rock engravings) of Gobustan.
A man breaks through the cracked earth on top of the mountain. He stands there alone. Through the silence, we hear the sound of the traditional Azerbaijani song ‘Sari Gelin’ played on the balaban.
A burning rock sits at the man’s feet. He picks it up.
He looks towards the woman, who stands facing him by the ‘Caspian Sea’. They remind us of Leyli and Majnun – the unrequited couple we met earlier, dancing on the measuring scales (the sun and moon).
A black mirror disc slowly emerges behind her, rising over the horizon of the water, like a moon, to frame her.
The mountain slowly descends into the earth and disappears.
The man now stands at the centre of the stage holding the burning rock.
He takes a few steps towards the woman and places the rock on the ground. It triggers streams of fire that spread through the cracked earth. He picks up the rock and puts it down in two more places on his way towards the woman.
The fire spreads through the cracks behind him to inscribe an enormous human figure in the ground.
It’s like flowing lava forming a giant petroglyph, or the eternal fire that burns from the ground at Yanar Dag.
As the petroglyph becomes more complex, we realise it looks like the human vein system, lit from the navel, the heart and the brain.
The man looks at the fiery landscape he’s created. The woman crosses the water to join him. He picks up the burning rock and the streams of fire quickly disappear, flowing from the hands and feet up to the top of the head.
As our story nears its climax, we’re reminded of humankind’s burning need to connect and understand, expressed through our scientific endeavours, our art and our love for one another.
The man and woman hold the burning rock and run together towards the rising disc.
They splash into the shallows of water and throw the rock towards the black mirror disc.
The burning rock smashes into the centre of the disc and shatters into pieces. Flames immediately ignite around the rim to create a ring of fire.
The lit disc is reminiscent of a total solar eclipse – a cosmic coming together of the earth, sun and moon.
This symbol of unity and truce rises high in the stadium.
Like the sun and the moon in an eclipse, our couple have aligned and become one.
Our attention is then drawn to the Presidential Box from where Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, declares the Games open.
Patrick Hickey, President of the European Olympic Committees, delivers a speech in English.
“This is the proudest moment in the history of the European Olympic Committees. Here, tonight, in Baku’s magnificent new National Stadium we are witnessing – we are creating – a landmark moment in European sport,” he said.
“And through Europe’s first Games, we bind the five continents of the Olympic Movement even closer together. Thank you President Aliyev and First Lady Aliyeva, and thank you Azerbaijan… For the welcome you have given to the European Olympic family.”
Mr Hikey said: “First Lady Aliyeva: as Chair of Baku 2015, your role in these European Games cannot be overstated. For your tireless dedication to this endeavour, for your contribution to the bright future of sport in Europe: once again, I thank you.”
This segment marks the official opening of the first ever European Games.
Mehriban Aliyeva, Chair of the Baku 2015 European Games Organising Committee and First Lady of the
Republic of Azerbaijan, delivers a speech in Azerbaijani and English.
“I congratulate wholeheartedly the entire people of Azerbaijan on the occasion of the first European Games.”
“This spectacular celebration is the victory of independent Azerbaijan and each Azerbaijani citizen,” said the First Lady.
“As a result of successes and achievements gained by us in independence years, today, here, a new page is being written in the European Olympic movement history in the beautiful city of Baku.”
“This page is being written by us. It is written by the people of Azerbaijan! May God bless Azerbaijan at all times.”
From technology, we move into the world of mythology. From understanding the origins of the universe, to understanding the roots of our continent’s name.
As a large white bull and a girl slowly fly across the stadium, we’re reminded of the story of Europa.
A galaxy of twinkling stars appears beneath them.
It soon emerges that it’s a map of Europe, as it might appear at night from space. As they fly off, a star shines bright over Baku.
In myth, Europa was a Phoenician princess. The Greek god Zeus liked the girl and appeared to her on a beach in the form of a beautiful white bull. Charmed, Europa climbed onto the bull’s back and Zeus stole her away, crossing the sea with the girl on his back to arrive at the Greek island of Crete, on the southern tip of Europe. There, she bore Zeus three children, including Minos, the legendary founder of the first literate European civilisation. Europe was named after this mythical princess, and the image of Europa on the Bull is a symbol of the continent.
A video of CERN, and the scientists who work there, plays on the stadium screens.
For 60 years, CERN has brought together nations in peace through science. These European Games are a new flame of international unity through sport.
The Large Hadron Collider is the brainchild of CERN, a community of more than 10,000 physicists and engineers from more than 100 nations. It’s the biggest machine on earth and lies hidden underground in the heart of Europe.
The European Olympic Committees’ flag is carried into the stadium by eight extraordinary sportsmen and women from across Europe.
Each one of them is an Olympic champion. And each of them is an inspiration to us all.
When the flag arrives at the flag pole, it’s transferred to eight members of the armed forces and raised by three additional members. They are all servicemen of the National Guard of the Special State Protection Service.
One flag representing all 50 members of the European Olympic Committees gathered here tonight.
One of the biggest names in pop music, Lady Gaga then took to the stage. She delivered a timely rendition of the John Lennon classic 'Imagine'.
The athletes parade around the central stage, before taking their seats in the stands to watch the rest of the Ceremony.
During the Parade, the 50 flags are gathered on steps leading to a platform where they will be planted together. At the end of the Parade, an energetic drum beat, played by 50 drummers, accompanies a choreography with the flags that takes them to their final positions. Meanwhile, the 50 placard bearers revolve on the ring around the stage.
For the nearly 6,000 athletes from 50 National Olympic Committees this is the moment when the hard work and training is behind them and the excitement of the Games ahead – 20 sports, 18 venues, 253 medal events.
The Parade of Nations is led by Greece to honour the birthplace of the Olympics. Other teams follow in alphabetical order, with the exception of the host nation who conclude the parade. So this evening, that’s Team Azerbaijan.
The miniatures world around Nizami disappears below the stage, the measuring scales exit, and the performers slowly leave.
Nizami holds a pomegranate in his hand. We then discover a huge pomegranate – a token of abundance, rebirth, love and good luck, and a symbol of Azerbaijan – slowly flying into the centre of the stadium.
The pomegranate splits open to release its seeds – hundreds of ruby-like balloons float around the stadium.
In Nizami’s poetic universe, pomegranates burst open from an excess of love – like our pomegranate this evening.
The flying pomegranate seeds create a festive atmosphere to welcome the athletes for the Parade of Nations to come.
300 performers appear on a ring around the stage.
The ring suddenly fills with colour as scenery rises from below – images from the centuries-old tradition of miniatures painting. The performers put the scenery together in front of our eyes.
We’ve entered the world of Nizami.
The ring starts to revolve, like an enormous music box or carousel. The performers – dressed and fully made-up to look like characters from the miniature paintings – bring the vibrant layered landscapes to life, moving like puppets.
Nizami leads us through scenes based on nine themes in his work – from ‘Seven Beauties’ to ‘Paradise’. We see houses, a palace, a school. Princes and princesses.
Dragons, horses and other creatures – real and mythical. Once the ring has turned full circle, a pomegranate tree rises from below and Nizami picks one of the fruit. Suddenly, everything freezes.
The journey ends this evening as the final torchbearer, Ilham Zakiyev, enters the stadium. He’s accompanied by Said Guliyev.
As they move towards the centre, we see that the ground beneath them is cracked earth, like Azerbaijani landscapes found around mud volcanoes.
At the centre, Said Guliyev raises a boulder to reveal a pit in the earth. As Ilham Zakiyev lights a fire in there, his torch is extinguished. The pit is covered
over again and as they leave, we see glimpses of fire or lava flowing through the cracks in the earth. This new energy under the ground will power the rest of the Ceremony.
The fire flowing through cracks in the earth sweeps towards a man standing at the edge of the stage and awakens him like a ghost or hologram.
He is the poet Nizami, holding a set of scales with two puppet figures. As we hear an extract from his poetry, he leads us into the world of his imagination.
When Nizami spins his small scales, a huge set of scales slowly spin over the centre of the stadium.
A puppet woman dances on the silver disc (the moon) while a puppet man dances on the gold one (the sun).
We have here the duality of humankind: female and male forces in perfect balance.
The puppet couple are Leyli and Majnun, a pair of star-crossed lovers from one of the best-known stories in Azerbaijani literature, also told by the poet Nizami.
They orbit each other and yearn to be with each other, but dance apart and never come together.
Stadium screens show the Journey of the Flame across Azerbaijan.
The audience are asked to stand for the national anthem – a two-minute orchestral version played by the Azerbaijan State Symphony Orchestra.
High level foreign guests at the Opening Ceremony include President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, President of Montenegro Filip Vujanovic, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mladen Ivanic, Grand Duke of Luxembourg Henri, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Mosaad Abdulaziz, President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach, ISESCO Director General Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, as well as high ranking officials from San-Marino, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Iran, Ukraine, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and other countries, outstanding public, political and sport figures.
With a final swish of their skirts, the dancers create the Azerbaijani flag. Fireworks shoot up from the stage, reaching twice the height of the stadium.
A fanfare draws our attention to the Presidential Box and welcomes President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, First Lady, Chair of Baku 2015 European Games Organising
Committee (BEGOC) Mehriban Aliyeva and President of the European Olympic Committees Patrick Hickey.
The flag of Azerbaijan is carried by eight and raised by three servicemen of the National Guard of the Special State Protection Service.
A thunderous sound is heard and a hush falls over the audience. From the silence we hear Alim Qasimov singing an improvised mugham.
His vocal leads to rhythmic drumming and a countdown from 24 to zero.
24 is also the number of hours in a day – one full rotation of the earth. The movements of the earth, moon and sun will play a vital role in tonight’s Ceremony.
The sounds we hear are distinctively Azerbaijani, locating us on the eastern edge of Europe, on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
As the countdown nears zero, the drumming builds to a musical climax with 50 drummers. The stadium is ablaze with fireworks and nearly 1,000 female dancers fill the entire main stage with their skirts of vibrant geometric patterns and decorative motifs, taken from the country’s world-famous carpets.