Pablo Picasso, whose work now adorns the walls of Louvre Abu Dhabi, once said that "everything you can imagine is real". In many ways, the phrase captures the growth and ambition of the UAE. And in few places is that spirit more evident than in the bricks and mortar of Louvre Abu Dhabi, which celebrates its one-year anniversary tomorrow. More than a decade has elapsed since the initial agreement with France, and 12 months since the opening of the museum's doors for the first time. But already its lattice dome – comprised of 7,850 giant jigsaw pieces and illuminated at night – has become a familiar sight for Abu Dhabi residents and an integral part of the city's picturesque skyline. Those who sit beneath its elegant roof, looking out over the museum's glittering moat, are treated to an ever-changing natural show, thanks to the rainfall of sunlight that has scattered upon more than one million visitors since its opening. Millions more are sure to follow in the coming years.
Yet Louvre Abu Dhabi is so much more than a museum. Its value as an emblem of cross-cultural understanding extends far beyond its unique structure, conceived by French architect Jean Nouvel, which has delighted lovers of contemporary building design the world over. Indeed, the museum is a flagpost for tolerance, unity and co-operation, messages this country painstakingly promotes in a conflict-riven region, and that permeate its walls and criss-cross the globe.
These ideas stretch as far as Brussels, where ancient artefacts currently on show in the Mleiha exhibition speak to the region's pre-Islamic era; to Paris, where many of Louvre Abu Dhabi's showpieces are on loan from; back through the centuries to the ancient empire of the Mesopotamians and the people of the Abbasid caliphate; then circle around to the Dubai we know today, with the celebration of contemporary Arab art in the Jameel Arts Centre. In short, Louvre Abu Dhabi is a realisation of an exchange of ideas, philosophies and culture that goes back to the earliest habitation of the Arabian Peninsula. Walking through its galleries, visitors encounter exhibits arranged not by period or culture but by theme. There is a melody to its displays, which tell a story of the history of the world and of humanity, bypassing the constraints of geography and time. On show is the past, present and future. Having such a venue on one's doorstep is a great privilege.
The world is currently facing a moment of great polarisation, with demagogues contriving to turn hatred and division into immense power. Against that backdrop, Louvre Abu Dhabi and the message it sends – that there has always been more to unite humanity than divide it – is neither frivolous nor platitudinous, but entirely urgent. If there is such a thing as a universal civilisation, Louvre Abu Dhabi is its vessel. For the UAE capital, that is, and long will be, a source of immense pride.