Inspired by traditional Arabic architecture, the "museum city" of Louvre Abu Dhabi - spread across 55 buildings on 64,000 square metres - is open after 11 years of anticipation.
A 4000-year-old Bactrian sculpture, a self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh and a 1948 drip painting by Jackson Pollock are among treasures displayed at Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates' capital.
After 11 years of planning and construction, including a five-year delay caused by the oil crisis and technical problems, the museum city opens this month with 23 galleries housing 300 works loaned by the Paris mothership and a dozen other French institutions, and more than 600 works acquired by Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The dome atop Louvre Abu Dhabi
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and inspired by traditional Arabic architecture, the medina of 55 squat white buildings connected by promenades is crowned by the key architectural feature: a huge, silvery dome 180 metres in diameter, which alone took two years to build. Sunlight filters through the dome's eight star-patterned layers creating a dappled "rain of light" during the day and a starry "sky" at night.
Artefacts and works are arranged by themes in 12 "chapters" - the portrayal of power and the divine, globalisation, exploration and the like - rather than grouped more traditionally by origin. Highlights include La Belle Ferronniere, a portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, a Mesopotamian stone sculpture from circa 2120BC and a rare ivory salt cellar from the Benin Empire.
Louvre Abu Dhabi is among the first of a constellation of cultural institutions designed by high-profile architects opening in the next few years on Saadiyat Island, including Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, by Frank Gehry, a maritime museum by Tadao Ando, and a performing arts centre by the late Zaha Hadid.
Louvre Abu Dhabi entry is 60 AED for adults, 30 AED for 13- to 22-year-olds (around $10 and $20), and free for children under 13. louvreabudhabi.ae