When you walk inside the Zapata-Cordoba’s living room in their tidy house in West Palm Beach, you can’t believe what you’re seeing.
You expect a couch, TV, or maybe a coffee table, but instead you see waterfalls, a river, mountains, caves, palm trees, animals and people, all forming a gigantic panoramic nativity scene.
Horacio Zapata, 65, and Nancy Cordoba, 63, both originally from Colombia, built nativity scenes in the past, in 2011 and 2014, but this is their biggest to date, and more realistic, with real goldfish in the Jordan River and houses nestled in caves with lighted ovens.
It even includes a soundtrack of soft sounds, of the wind, of human voices.
According to the couple, the panorama depicts the journey of Mary and Joseph as they made their way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth.
“It was a promise we did to our father, Jesus Christ, to recreate his birth here in our home, to thank him for the blessings and protection he has given us,” said Zapata.
For the last six years, the couple has collected hundreds of objects and holy imagery from all over the world. They have little rugs and cushions from Persia and Turkey, utensils from Spain, statues from Italy and baskets from Colombia. Some items were sent by family members overseas while others were bought online.
The panorama includes 100 sheep, an assortment of donkeys, cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, ducks, frogs, swans, camels and 160 people figurines. It has houses set in caves, markets, mountains, palm trees, plants and the Jordan River, complete with 62 live goldfish.
And it of course features the birth of Jesus in a manger under the Star of Bethlehem.
In September, Zapata and Cordoba started building the platform under which the nativity scene is displayed. It’s roughly 19 feet by 10, and about 4 feet high. It’s the biggest thing inside their house: larger than any bed, sofa or dining table.
“We worked for almost four months, sometimes five to eight hours a day,” said Zapata. “We had several all-nighters too, but we finally finished it December 14th.”
There was a lot of cutting, taping, mixing of porcelain and using the oven to create fruits and animals. They made the mountains from paper, foam and glue, painted the sky, collected sand for the terrain, carved out caves, designed the rivers and gave life to the plants.
“We’re happy, so happy. All day we’re looking at it. And, we almost don’t want to do anything else besides being home, looking at it and thanking God,” said Cordoba. “It has brought peace to our home.”
Cordoba is retired but still works on-call as a designer at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. She has more than 20 years’ experience in interior design between the U.S. and her native Medellin, Colombia. She has been the panorama’s master designer while her husband, a retired pool maintenance man, is her right hand. They have three adult children and live in the Summit Pines neighborhood house with her mother.
The panorama has been visited by more than 100 friends, neighbors and co-workers since it was finished, they said.
“Nobody can believe it when they see it, that there’s such a big nativity inside a house. They say ‘It’s incredible, Oh my god,’” said Cordoba.
The couple will leave the display up until March or April when their family visits from Colombia and Costa Rica.