The visitors look at Augustus, Roman Emperor, (r. 27BCE- 14 CE) Italy, Rome, 27 BCE-100 CE, marble work on the display at Louvre Abu Dhabi during the opening for Public on Saturday. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The long wait finally ended when the Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened its doors to the public at 10am on Saturday.

Welcomed by a troupe of Emirati dancers, visitors streamed into the iconic museum all day, excited to make their first encounter with what is known as the only universal museum in the Arab world. And when they walked out hours later, most of them said that they would soon come back for more.

“I booked my tickets in advance, and just had to be here today. And although I’ve never visited the Louvre Museum in Paris, I can tell that the Louvre Abu Dhabi truly offers a rich cultural experience that everyone should experience,” Ameena Al Hosani, a 22-year-old Emirati student, told Gulf News.

Abdul Rahman, another 22-year-old Emirati student, added that the presence of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a true achievement for the country.

“It cements our position on the cultural map, and although I haven’t been through the galleries yet, I know I will be visiting again after this,” he said.

The majority of first-day visitors to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the result of a 2007 intergovernmental agreement between the governments of the UAE and France, said they were entranced by the arrangement of artworks next to one another.

“It was extremely interesting to see three items placed next to each another, each from a different culture. It opens the mind,” said Lamy Martine, 70, a French tourist visiting the museum.

“I’ve read so much about the universality of the museum and its curatorial process that it was amazing to see the juxtaposition of the various works next to one another. [I remember the stunning way in which the gold funerary masks from the Levant, China and Peru] were placed in the same display,” added Bill Bragin, 50, executive artistic director at New York University Abu Dhabi’s Arts Centre.

Bragin said he had come to Abu Dhabi three years ago to be part of Abu Dhabi’s journey towards becoming a centre of art and culture.

“This tour was therefore extremely emotional for me, and I feel breathless right now,” he added.

Visitors were also overwhelmed at being able to see world-class art up close.

“I haven’t been to the Louvre Museum in Paris, so it was great to be able to see famous artworks here in Abu Dhabi. In fact, I would say this is a historic moment,” said Nada A., an Emirati quality manager navigating the museum in her wheelchair.

The Saadiyat Island museum offers access to renowned pieces of art, with more than 300 items on loan from 13 French institutions for the next 10 years. Stunning pieces like Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Self-portrait’ and Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘La Belle Ferronniere’ are on display in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, alongside the two-headed statue dating back to 6500BC, one of the oldest pieces of art known to man.

The loans are part of the $1.2-billion (Dh4.66-billion) UAE-France intergovernmental deal that also loans the name of the Louvre for 30 years and six months, and temporary exhibitions for 15 years.

First-day visitors, including over a 1,000 people who had bought tickets online for the opening day, were also left astounded by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel’s design of the facility, which incorporates an eight-layered dome over 55 small buildings separated by narrow corridors. The overall effect is one he calls the ‘rain of light’ over an old walled Arab town.

“I had seen renderings of the museum, and it’s amazing to see how Nouvel’s final structure is exactly like those renderings. It is so difficult to achieve that. So although I loved seeing Da Vinci and Van Gogh and (Édouard) Manet in one place, I was still most exhilarated by the architecture,” said Soroshi Michelle, 30, an Indian architect who drove down from Dubai.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is part of Abu Dhabi’s vision of a cultural district on Saadiyat Island that should attract residents and tourists alike, and a number of tourists were in fact visiting it on the opening day.

“I asked my daughter to schedule my trip around this opening because I was so excited about it. I loved how the artwork is arranged chronologically so that you can travel through time and experience the cultural comparisons. And the space around the artwork was very much a part of this too,” said Dorothea Brune, 66, a music teacher visiting from the United States.

Ahmad Moayad, 33, an Iraqi tourist, added that he was very excited to see how the Louvre Abu Dhabi will grow.

“I come down to Abu Dhabi very often, and I will visit this museum again and again just to see the evolution of this space,” he said.