More than a decade in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors on Wednesday, bringing the famed name to the Arab world for the first time.
In a large ceremony attended by presidents, kings and representatives of Arab and Western countries, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the museum in the presence of Morocco's King Mohammed VI and President of Afghanistan Mohammed Ashraf Ghani.
Flagged as "the first universal museum in the Arab world", it sits on the low-lying Saadiyat Island, a developing tourism and culture hub 500 meters off the coast of the United Arab Emirates' capital.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first museum to bear the Louvre name outside France, presents around 600 pieces in a modern, light-filled structure in harmony with its desert-island setting.
Among the exhibits are an early Quran, a gothic Bible and a Yemenite Torah, facing each other and open at verses carrying the same message.
In a tweet ahead of the opening, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed hailed the museum as a global cultural monument. "The Louvre Abu Dhabi brings together unique art icons that reflect humanity's collective genius," he said.
The museum designed by France's Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel conjures up the image of an Arab city as seen through the eyes of a contemporary cinematographer.
The architect said when it came to the design, he did not have to look too far for inspiration, because it lay right here, in the heart of the UAE.
Jean-Luc Martinez, president of the Louvre in Paris, said the new museum was designed “to open up to others, to understand diversity” in “a multipolar world”.
It currently has some 300 pieces on loan, including an 1887 self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Belle Ferronniere”.
Macron, who arrived on his first visit to the Middle East for the inauguration, hailed the museum as a “decisive turning point” in ties with the United Arab Emirates in an interview with local daily Al-Ittihad.
The opening comes a decade after France and the UAE agreed to a 30-year partnership initially reported to be worth $1.1 billion, including nearly half-a-billion dollars for the rights to the Louvre brand alone.
The museum expects to welcome around 5,000 visitors in the first few days which follow the public opening on November 11, according to Mohammed Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism Authority.
“Because this is an international museum, we’re expecting visitors from around the world,” Mubarak said during a media tour ahead of Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony.