CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Museum of Islamic Art, home to one of the world's most important collections of Islamic artifacts, is welcoming visitors for the first time since it was damaged in a car bombing three years ago.
First opened in 1903, the museum was closed in January 2014 after a bomb attack on the Cairo police directorate across the street severely damaged its facade and dozens of exhibits.
It reopened last week after a two-year restoration program funded by the United Arab Emirates and UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nation, as well Switzerland, the United States and Italy.
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Restoration experts were able to salvage all but 19 of the 179 damaged pieces and more than 4,400 exhibits are on display, including about 400 that are being shown for the first time, Egypt's Antiquities Ministry said.
"I'm amazed. I haven't been to the Louvre, but I feel like I'm somewhere a lot more beautiful," said Hussein Ismail, a visitor, as he surveyed exhibits displayed in new glass cases.
Egypt's Museum of Islamic Art houses artifacts charting more than 1,300 years of Muslim civilization in Egypt and includes pieces from throughout the Muslim world.
"It is the largest of its kind, containing 100,000 pieces," Egypt's Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany said last week at a ceremony to celebrate the reopening of the museum, which he described as part of Egypt's fight against terrorism.
Egyptian security forces have been battling an insurgency led by Islamic State since general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power in 2013 from Islamist President Mohamed Mursi after mass protests against his rule.
The violence is largely contained in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, but there have also been occasional attacks in Cairo, the country's capital, where the museum is located.
Enany said that he hoped the return of the museum would help to attract tourists back to Egypt.
Once a magnet for visitors seeking Pharaonic wonders and pristine beaches, Egypt has suffered a collapse in tourism since the 2011 uprising heightened political instability.
(Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Lin Noueihed and David Goodman)