With its broad expanses, well-tended lawn, minarets, and palm trees, the Centro Cultural Islámico brings a little bit of the Middle East to Buenos Aires. Overlooking the polo grounds, this enormous structure, which becomes simply radiant in strong sunlight, is the largest Islamic center and mosque in all of Latin America. At night, the lit-up minarets are a striking contrast with the surrounding apartment complexes. The project began under former President Carlos Ménem, who is of Syrian Muslim descent but converted to Catholicism because of restrictions on non-Catholics becoming president. Construction began in 1998, and the center was opened in 2000. The center is open for free tours in Spanish and sometimes in English, Tuesday and Thursday at noon. Lasting 45 minutes, they include the gardens, interior courtyard, library, and other spaces. Institutions can make special requests for tours at other times. The Centro offers classes on the Koran and Arabic language, and has a library open to the public daily from 10am to 5pm. Though the Centro is closed to the public on Muslim holidays, Muslim visitors to Buenos Aires are welcome to visit for services. Estimates place the Islamic and Arabic population in Argentina at about 750,000. Many Argentines call anyone of Arabic or Muslim descent "Turcos," or Turks, regardless of their country of origin, based on the fact that the majority are from areas once controlled by the Ottoman Empire, the capital of which was in modern-day Turkey.