The Louvre Museum opens Islamic art wing

23 September 2012

The Louvre museum in Paris on Saturday opened to the public a new wing of Islamic art in a bid to improve knowledge of a religion often viewed with suspicion in the West.

Taken a decade and costing nearly 100 million euros ($131 million), it is funded by the French government and supported by handsome endowments from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait, Oman and Azerbaijan.

About 3,000 precious works from the seventh to the 19th centuries are spread across 3,000 square metres (33,000 square feet) over two levels of the former palace.

Inaugurated by President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, the new wing holds 18,000 treasures from an area stretching from Europe to India and includes the oldest love letter in the Islamic world.

France is home to at least four million Muslims and leaders of the community say incidents of Islamophobia are on the rise against a background of confrontation with the authorities and rising suspicion of Muslims.

The Louvre opening comes as demonstrations are sweeping Muslim countries to protest a crudely made Internet video shot in the United States mocking Islam, and French cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Sophie Makariou, the head of the department of Islamic arts at the Paris museum, said the aim of the new wing was to show “Islam with a capital I.” “We must give back the word Islam its full glory... and not leave it to the jihadists to tarnish it,” she said at a press preview earlier this week.

Set in a courtyard of commissioned in the 18th century, the new wing is housed under a giant undulating gold-coloured aluminium canopy pierced with tiny holes to let daylight filter through and change the mood and the ambience with the sun’s rays.

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