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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Visitors attend the opening day at the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi on November 11, 2017. Christopher Pike / The National

Louvre Abu Dhabi's first birthday: how the museum found its home

It was a clear morning in November. The weather was finally cooling down and people were enjoying a first taste of winter. A regular Saturday then, or so it seemed. But something quite extraordinary was happening that day on Saadiyat Island.

On November 11, 2017, Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened to the public — the culmination of a 10-year journey for the UAE and France. Some people said it would never happen.

“The first applause has to be for this beautiful building,” Mohammed Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, said. “We have accomplished history."

Early that morning, waves of people started to arrive at the museum’s parking lots and anticipation built as the shuttle buses took them to the front of the museum. There at 10am, director of Louvre Abu Dhabi Manuel Rabate made a presentation to Kiyana and Kalyssa Jiwani – two girls who were first in line. The doors were flung open and Abu Dhabi would never be the same again.

Designed by the much-lauded Jean Nouvel, the centrepiece of Louvre Abu Dhabi is its silver dome that creates a spectacular "rain of light" effect as the sun passes overheard. The effect faintly recalls an oasis and anyone who has walked in the oasis of Al Ain can testify to that.

Underneath the dome sits a medina-like complex of 55 buildings. This aims to recreate the atmosphere of an Arabian agora, with narrow streets, galleries, a cafe and more.

What struck me most about Louvre Abu Dhabi when I visited the museum as few days earlier for a special preview was how the building felt so of the region. I had followed the work of my colleagues here at The National who over the previous years had reported on the construction of the museum, the architecture, the workers who built it and the art inside. And now here was a building that seemed firmly rooted in the region. True, it would benefit from the completion of other projects surrounding it but Louvre Abu Dhabi is something not foreign, strange or imported.

In the year that followed, Louvre Abu Dhabi has hosted a series of well-received exhibitions on the history of the Louvre in Paris, how scientists discovered the world was round and the influence of Japanese art on modern decor. Along with its highly-regarded permanent galleries, it stages four temporary exhibitions a year along with a host of other cultural activities.

More thought-provoking exhibitions lie ahead next year. In February, masterpieces from one of the most acclaimed Old Masters, Rembrandt will go on display. Later next year, Louvre Abu Dhabi will explore how the invention of photography in 1839 changed the world.

A year on, two special but wildly different events are among those marking its one-year anniversary. Its new exhibition, Roads of Arabia, shows how the history of the Arabian peninsula did not begin with the oil well. Hundreds of artefacts explain how people lived, traded and died here for millennia. Pop superstar Dua Lipa, meanwhile, will play a sold-out gig on Sunday - a year to the day that Louvre Abu Dhabi opened.

“Be there to open the next chapter of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s history,” the museum said.

These two wildly different events speak to the seriousness of the museum to investigate the past, without losing its sense of fun and zeitgeist.

Timeline

October, 2007: France approves a deal to allow the UAE museum to use the famous Louvre name

May, 2009: Construction work on Louvre Abu Dhabi starts on Saadiyat Island

October, 2014: the final supersized piece of the museum's famous dome is put into place, marking a major milestone in its construction

November 11, 2017: Louvre Abu Dhabi opens its doors, welcoming thousands of visitors in its first few weeks.

December, 2017: the museum announces it will house Leonardo da Vinci's famous Salvator Mundi - after it sold for a record $450.3 million (Dh1.65 billion) at auction.

October, 2018: Louvre Abu Dhabi named one of the "seven urban wonders of the world" by travel technology company LikeWhere

November, 2018: The museum celebrates its one-year anniversary with a gig by Dua Lipa and a new exhibition, Roads of Arabia.

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