ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron took his first walk Wednesday night through the galleries of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a decade after his country signed an over $1.2 billion agreement to share the name and some of the artworks of the world-famous museum.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, walked up to the museum with Abu Dhabi's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan and Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Both Emirati rulers smiled and greeted the couple, an Emirati honor guard standing at ready nearby.
With architect Jean Nouvel at his side, Macron entered the first gallery of the museum. Nouvel pointed out the skylight within it, which mirrors the Louvre Pyramid and are similar to others through the museum.
The floor beneath them bore the outline of the United Arab Emirates, with different world cities named on it in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and English.
They then looked at a two-headed Neolithic statue from Jordan, one of the oldest known in human history.
They will join other Arab leaders at an event later Wednesday night to inaugurate the building.
The museum marks a major cultural achievement for the UAE after a decade-long wait and questions about conditions that laborers on the project had faced.
The artwork on display offers a brief history of the world and its major religions — without shying away from Judaism in a country that officially does not recognize Israel.
Museum officials say it also serves as a cultural bridge between the East and West. However, the conservative mores of Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital that's more buttoned-up than freewheeling Dubai, can be seen in the relative absence of pieces depicting nudity.
The modernist museum sits under a honeycombed dome of eight layers of Arab-style geometric shapes.
It draws the lapping waters of the Persian Gulf into its outer corridors, allowing individual beams of light that pass through the roof to strike the surface and cast dancing reflections across the white walls. At night, light inside pours out like tiny stars from a salt shaker against the city's skyline.
Abu Dhabi officials have not disclosed how much it cost to build the museum.
What is known is that Abu Dhabi agreed to pay France $525 million for the use of the "Louvre" name for the next 30 years and six months, plus another $750 million to hire French managers to oversee the 300 loaned works of art. A center at Paris' Louvre now bears the name of the late UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, which was also part of the deal.
During construction, the project faced intense criticism over laborer conditions amid low pay, long hours and the brutal UAE heat. A worker was killed in an accident in 2015 while another died of "natural causes" in 2016, according to Abu Dhabi authorities.
Hundreds working on projects on the island, including the Louvre, also were deported or lost their work visas for launching strikes over their conditions, according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report. Labor strikes are illegal in the UAE.