French President Francois Hollande has inaugurated a new Louvre museum in northern France. Leaders hope the site, an offshoot of one of the world's most famous museums, can bring life back into the coal town.
Former coal miners, wearing their old gear and overalls, gathered in the newly constructed glass and aluminium building in the small town of Lens, where they welcomed President Hollande and Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti on Tuesday.
President Hollande and the region's leader expressed the hope that the new cultural center could transform one of France's poorest communities into a thriving tourist attraction.
"We know one museum does not make a spring. But it does sign the end of winter," said Daniel Percheron, the president of Pas-de-Calais, where Lens is located.
The city of 35,000 has struggled with economic difficulties in the two decades after its last mines were shut down. Currently, 16 percent of its population is unemployed.
The Louvre has loaned its Lens affiliate some 200 works for a semi-permanent collection it is to maintain for the first five years. The iconic "Liberty Leading the People" (pictured above) by Eugene Delacroix tops the collection's list, which includes pieces that range from antiquity to mid-19th century.
The new museum, which cost over 150 million euros ($196,000 million), was designed by the Japanese architectural agency Sanaa. It is expected to attract over 500,000 visitors a year, according to the Paris-based Louvre.
In 2004, the French government began working with the Lens community to erect the culture site. The move came as part of a larger national project aimed at spreading France's cultural treasures throughout various regions. Metz, located in north eastern France, was the most recent recipient of a similar idea, when it became the new satellite of Paris-based Centre Pompidou in 2010.
The Louvre-Lens is scheduled to open to the public on December 12.
kms/hc (dpa, AFP, Reuters)