DORDRECHT, Netherlands -- Just as the first storms of winter roll in, Dutchman Johan Huibers has finished his 20-year quest to build a full-scale, functioning model of Noah’s Ark -- an undertaking of, well, biblical proportions.
Huibers, a Christian, used books 6-9 of Genesis as his inspiration, following the instructions God gives Noah down to the last cubit.
Translating to modern measurements, Huibers came up with a vessel that works out to a whopping 427 feet long, 95 feet across and 75 feet high. Perhaps not big enough to fit every species on Earth, two by two, as described in the Bible, but plenty of space, for instance, for a pair elephants to dance a tango.
Johan’s Ark towers across the flat Dutch landscape and is easily visible from a nearby highway where it lies moored in the city of Dordrecht, just south of Rotterdam.
Gazing across the ark’s main hold, a huge space of stalls supported by a forest of pine trees, visitors gaze upon an array of stuffed and plastic animals, such as buffalo, zebra, gorillas, lions, tigers, bears, you name it. Elsewhere on the ark is a petting zoo with actual live animals that are less dangerous or easier to care for -- such as ponies, dogs, sheep, and rabbits -- and an impressive aviary of exotic birds.
"This boat -- it’s amazing," said Alfred Jongile, visiting from South Africa with his Dutch wife.
For Huibers, a builder by trade, it all began with a nightmare he had in 1992, when the low-lying Netherlands was flooded, as it has been many times throughout its history.
Huibers thinks that new floods are possible, not least due to global warming. He cites a New Testament passage prophesying that "the cities of the coast shall tremble" near the end of times.
But he’s not worried the whole Earth will ever be flooded again. In the Bible, the rainbow is God’s promise it won’t be.
"I had a call from American television," he says, laughing. "This has nothing to do with the end of the Mayan calendar," he said.
He said his motivation is ultimately religious, though. He wants to make people think what their purpose is on Earth.
"I want to make people question that so that they go looking for answers," and ultimately find salvation through God and eternal life, he said.
Johan’s Ark also contains a restaurant on the topmost level and a movie theater capable of seating 50 people. Around the edges of each level of the craft are displays on ancient Middle Eastern history and dress, scenes from the life of Noah, and games for kids, including water pumps and a system of levers to lift bales of hay.
Down below there is a honeycomb system of hatches, each opening into an area where food could be sealed in for long-term storage.
There is an outdoor space near the stern with a dizzying series of stairwells. Walking around, Johan points out features such as the curvature of the upper deck, which he said would have been used to collect rainwater for drinking, as well as for letting animals such as horses out to exercise where they could run around.
Another visitor, Martin Konijn, said he was impressed with the level of detail.
"You might know the story of Noah, okay, but if you see this you begin to get an idea of how it would actually have worked in practice."
Huibers says he’s considering where to take the floating attraction next, including European ports or even across the Atlantic -- though the latter would require transport aboard an even bigger ship.
But Huibers is also working on a new dream, perhaps even more unlikely than the first one: he wants to get Israelis and Arabs to cooperate and build a water pipeline from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.
"If you have faith, anything is possible," he says.