Paris’s famed Louvre museum 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.
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 meters (33,000 square feet) over two levels.
The project, inaugurated by President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, groups 18,000 treasures from an area stretching from Europe to India and includes the oldest love letter in the Islamic world.
Denise Spacensky, one of the first visitors to the new wing, said the opening came at an opportune time “with everything that is happening in the world”, and said the exhibits show “Islam as a refined, peaceful civilization.”
“I hope it will open Westerners’ minds to the passionate past of Islamic civilization, but also to the complex of Muslims who believe they are not understood,” said the retired teacher of Chinese art.
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.