In the north of Romania, about 700km from its capital city, Bucharest, is the world famous Merry Cemetery. Why is this cemetery so special? Thousands of tourists visit the village of Săpânţa, Maramureș region, every year, for its joyful way of treating this sad and inevitable event, death.
The Merry Cemetery is one of a kind worldwide and has become a unique open air museum. The vivid colors of the crosses and the satirical epitaphs determined this paradoxical name of the cemetery: The Merry Cemetery. Since 2009 the annual festival - "Long road to the Merry Cemetery" (romanian: Drumul Lung spre Cimitirul Vesel) has raised more awareness of the unusual cemetery.
Considered by some a "book" of local history, the crosses of this cemetery immortalize the ups and downs of the day to day life in the village and most importantly mock and try to defy death, by laughing about it.
Everything started in 1935, when a local sculptor, Stan Ion Pătraș (1908-1977), made a carved cross. He paint it and wrote a cheerful epitaph on it, for a young local who had drown in the river. He was inspired to use his skills as sculptor, painter and poet to make the crosses for the cemetery, after observing the Christian ritual followed by somebody's death. When someone dies, the tradition says that family and friends gather around the dead to remember his or her life, and often they made jokes about the deceased. The sculptor was making around 10 crosses a year and had 53 apprentices. Today one of his apprentices still carries on the tradition of the treating death with irony and satire.
Nowadays the Merry Cemetery has about 800 crosses, and all of them follow the same template. In the upper part of the cross is an sculpted image or a couple of images illustrating the life or death of the person buried there. Below those there are some lyrics, that explain the illustrations. The epitaphs are cheerful poems about the deceased, which describe their lives, occupation, addictions, passions and sins. On some crosses is written on the backside the cause of death, also using satirical lyrics. The crosses are made of oak wood and painted in vivid colors, red, yellow, green, and a specific tone of blue, which they call "Săpânţa Blue" (Albastru de Sapanta). This specific blue is the predominant color of the cemetery.
Some say the origin of the Merry Cemetery is an ancient Dacian tradition, that had a joyful attitude regarding death. The Dacians believed the soul is immortal and they saw death as a step towards a greater existence. Death was considered a joyful event, not the tragic end of life as most of us do. It was supposed the dead leave this life and in return they would live a better one, where they had chance to meet their supreme god, Zamolxis.
Visiting the cemetery
The cemetery is located in Săpânţa, Maramureș. There are signs guiding the tourists towards the cemetery right from the entrance in the village. Unlike most graveyards, the Merry Cemetery is located in the heart of the village, and many locals cross it to get from one site to the other.
Tickets and hours
From 7am till dawn, the gates of the Merry Cemetery are open for tourist to admire it. There are no entry fees.