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10 years in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi set to open

ABU DHABI, Nov 8, 2017 (BSS/AFP) - More than a decade in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi opens its doors on Wednesday, bringing the famed name to the Arab world for the first time.

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.

French President Emmanuel Macron will be among those attending the 1600 GMT opening, along with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and leaders including Morocco's King Mohammed VI.

The museum design, by France's Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, conjures up the image of an Arab medina as seen through the eyes of a contemporary cinematographer.

A silver-toned dome with perforated arabesque patterns appears to float over the white galleries, creating what Nouvel describes as a "rain of light".

To reach the ground, each ray of light must cross eight layers of perforations, creating a constantly shifting pattern that mimics the shadows cast by palm trees or the roof of a traditional Arab market.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first of three museums to open on Saadiyat Island, where the UAE plans to launch the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, designed by Frank Gehry, and Norman Foster's Zayed National Museum.

Some five percent of the museum, which will open to the public on Saturday, is dedicated to contemporary and modern art, including a monumental piece by China's Ai Weiwei.

His 23-foot-high "Fountain of Light" is a spiralling structure draped in crystals inspired by communist plans for a massive monument that never actually saw the light of day.

- 300 pieces on loan -

The main focus, however, is on world history and religions.

Among the exhibits are an early Koran, a gothic Bible and a Yemenite Torah, facing each other and open at verses carrying the same message.

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".

The oil-rich Gulf emirate has also spent years quietly building its own permanent collection.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is displaying more than 235 works of art from the Emirati collection, including Edouard Manet's "The Gypsy" and works by Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian and Turkey's Osman Hamdi Bey.

The authorities have put in place strict measures to protect the art from the heat in a country where summer temperatures soar well above 40 degrees Celsius (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit).

The artworks are also guarded by Emirati forces in coordination with French experts.

The museum expects to welcome around 5,000 visitors over 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.

"So a museum visitor from China will find something that speaks to her, to her history. A visitor from India will find the same."

The Louvre Abu Dhabi project initially sparked heated debate in France, where criticism erupted early on over the sale of a French name to an Arab state.

Questions of labour rights have also hung over the project, linked to the overall status of migrant workers in the Gulf.

The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi comes after a more than five-year delay.