x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 November 2017

Louvre Abu Dhabi: Museum where 'East meets West' opens to the world

The international flavour of the evening was a reflection of the museum, which covers all human history

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, left, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, right, enter Louvre Abu Dhabi with French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron. Omar Al Askar for The Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, left, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, right, enter Louvre Abu Dhabi with French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron. Omar Al Askar for The Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

The guest list was as distinguished as it was long.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi; French president Emmanuel Macron; King Mohammed VI of Morocco; and Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan.

On this night, though, all was outshone by the great dome of Louvre Abu Dhabi, lighting the night sky like a constellation of stars that had fallen to Earth.

Ten years ago it was another president of France, Jacques Chirac, who endorsed the deal that would bind the UAE and one of the world’s greatest art institutions.

Tonight it was a successor, Mr Macron, who flew to Abu Dhabi for the long-awaited opening of the completed museum.

He arrived for the opening ceremony accompanied by his wife Brigitte, who was wearing a jacket with sparkling sequins that echoed the brilliance of the building rising behind them.

Mr Macron was greeted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, also Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

The three leaders seemed clearly at ease with each other, with a guard of honour representing all branches of the Armed Forces, as the French president appeared to speak a few words in Arabic.

The setting for the opening ceremony was the plaza in the heart of the museum, a huge open space crowned by the great dome and opening across the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Guests were seated in a temporary stand that will be removed before the first public visitors arrive on Saturday, and listened first to a speech of welcome from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.

Then it was the turn of Mr Macron.

In an impassioned speech, he first praised the museum’s architect, Jean Nouvel, telling him: “You have built a temple for beauty.”

Continuing the theme, the president then quoted the Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “Beauty will save the world.”

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Louvre Abu Dhabi, Mr Macron said, was a place of desert and light and a message for the world.

“Beauty builds a bridge between continents and generations,” he said. The museum had a universal message, Mr Macron said, referring to the UAE’s role as pivotal and at the heart of a region with some of the world’s greatest challenges.

“You are at the epicentre,” Mr Macron said.

“You are the nerve centre of the East and West meeting. You hold the balance between Asia, Africa and Europe.”

The international flavour of the evening was a reflection of the museum, which covers all human history and whose collection includes artefacts from all faiths, including Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said that Louvre Abu Dhabi represented the best of the East and in the West, “the symbol of the meeting of ideas. We don’t just aim for a dialogue between civilisations, rather an alliance between civilisations”.

To complete the evening, there was a musical composition described as a fusion of East and West.

The French female conductor Laurence Equilbey led a chamber orchestra that played an extract from a Gluck opera with western instruments, but also with the Arabic oud and qanun strings and the nay flute.

The programme also featured a nabati poem written by the Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed: How Beautiful This World Is!

As the music faded to ringing applause, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was once again centre stage, as thousands of bright pinpricks illuminated the interior and huge beams of light soared into the night sky.

The message was unmistakable.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is now open and ready to welcome the world.