The biggest Paralympic Games in history began in style as fireworks and illuminations lit up the Olympic Stadium during last night’s opening ceremony. A 26-meter (85-foot) tall styrofoam plane tree, symbolizing strength and longevity, stood in the middle of the sold-out stadium, bathed in dark blue light as the Angolan team led the parade of athletes before the Flame was lit and dignitaries made their speeches. «The Games that we open tonight are more than just a great sports competition. They are a global celebration of strength and beauty, of diversity and inclusion,» said Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, head of the Athens 2004 organizing committee. The 12th Paralympics will see 3,846 athletes from 136 countries competing in 19 events. Organizers have sold well over half of the 500,000 tickets available and may be hoping to sell more after a poll released yesterday found that 79 percent of Greeks questioned were very interested in watching the Paralympics. «It is an honor for all of us here in Greece to host such a group of extraordinary athletes,» said Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. The Flame arrived at the Olympic Stadium in Athens earlier on Friday having completed its journey from the port of Piraeus. Some 680 torchbearers carried the flame through 54 Attica municipalities, covering a distance of 410 km. Athens has spent approximately 18.5 million euros upgrading its disabled facilities and this is the first time in the history of the Paralympics that the structure of the organizing committee has remained the same as during the Olympics. «We were determined that the venues and facilities in which you compete and the level of service provided would be the best in the world, and we are proud of what we have achieved,» Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said in her opening ceremony speech. The remodeling of roads and pavements and the fostering of a greater sensitivity toward disabled people may leave Athens with a significant legacy. «People with disabilities have never been more visible in Greece. I am convinced that after the end of the Paralympics, Greek society will have a different attitude toward them,» Yiannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum told Agence France-Presse. «After you leave, Athens will remain a better city for all of its citizens and we thank you for showing us the way,» Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said.