Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first universal museum in the Arab world, has opened to the public.
Traditional Emirati dances, a fly-past by an Etihad A380 and a planned light show marked the day that so many had been waiting for.
"We are so impressed. This is stunning. We had been looking forward to it and I wanted to bring my youngest to be part of history," said Muhannad Qubbaj, who lives in the UAE and whose three-year-old daughter was on his shoulders."The dome is outstanding and is the masterpiece. I'm excited about everything inside but frankly this is my favourite."
A heady atmosphere reigned supreme on Saadiyat Island as the opening hour approached. Shuttle buses full of people left in convoys from the car parks to the main entrance as visitors clutching their tickets queued patiently.
At 10am, Louvre Abu Dhabi director Manuel Rabaté made a presentation to Kiyana and Kalyssa Jiwani – two girls who were first in line.
Then the doors opened and scores of people crossed the threshold of architect Jean Nouvel's remarkable creation as a traditional Emirati al ayala dance was performed.
Online tickets for the opening day were sold out. But throngs of people queued to snap up the limited number of tickets available on the door. Thousands came through the galleries on the first day.
French couple Senequier Jean Baptiste and Camille Cost were the first visitors into the gallery spaces on Saturday morning.
“I came here for the architecture because I’m a project designer – it’s really amazing,” said Mr Jean Baptiste.
Mr Jean Baptiste and Ms Cost were in town to visit friends and it coincided with the opening.
“It’s a really great idea to have the art displayed chronologically. The museum is a piece of art. The dome is very beautiful – it’s magical,” he said.
Ms Cost added: “It’s a very beautiful surprise and a very good representation of each period. We saw some pictures of the project but it was a surprise. A good surprise. The dome is incredible.”
The centrepiece of the first Louvre to open outside of France is Jean Nouvel’s silver dome that creates a "rain of light" effect to mimic an oasis. Underneath sits a medina-like complex of 55 buildings along narrow streets.
For Emiratis Salem Al Shamsi and Asma Albedwawi, the experience was amazing. “It’s so nice. It’s gathering so many cultures together and art from across the world, and gathering people,” said Mr Al Shamsi.
Ms Albedwawi was impressed by the canopy design that allows air to circulate. "I can really feel the fresh air coming in under the dome and it's amazing," she said.
People streamed through the plaza, café, boutique and galleries all day, including many families.
“It’s great,” said Erik Permana, who lives in Abu Dhabi but is from Indonesia originally. “We’ve been in the Louvre in Paris in 2013. It’s totally different but it’s nice.” He had come with his family who enjoyed the Children’s Museum.
For the UAE and France, Saturday’s opening marks the culmination of a ten-year journey. Louvre Abu Dhabi officials, including Mr Rabaté and scientific director of Agence France-Muséums Jean François Charnier, walked around the dome and galleries of this museum city on Saturday as the public had their first look.
"It is a moving moment," Mr Charnier said on Saturday. "It was our duty to be here welcoming the first visitors."
Mr Charnier said it was still quite surreal to see people experiencing the museum for the first time. "We made it. The museum is perfect."
Mr Rabaté said Saturday was a special day after ten years of hard work.“You see people from all over the world. Emiratis, expatriates, tourists, all together - mesmerised by the dome, the artworks, by the Children’s Museum. I see people carrying bags from the boutiques, bringing back books, presents. It’s exciting. It’s a good picture of what days in Louvre Abu Dhabi could look like.”
Bill Bragin, executive artistic director at NYUAD's Arts Center, said the experience was spectacular. "I'm breathless. It is so incredibly moving."
Along with the Etihad fly-past, one of the highlights planned for the day was a stunning light show by French wizards Groupe F. Over four acts, different works from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection were to be projected onto the building’s panels.
The long-awaited opening is being marked by a series of events including performances by world music stars Matthieu Chedid, aka -M-, Fatoumata Diawara, Ibrahim Maalouf and Totó la Momposina at 9pm each evening.
There are also workshops, guided tours and local art performances.