Nov 01

The Merry Cemetery

If we were to take a country and start exploring it carefully, we would be surprised of the many grand discoveries we were to find. And I would like to narrow this statement to a specific domain, namely to tourism. Nowadays, we have a multitude of websites from where we can gather the needed information in terms of tourist attractions in a specific country or area, so if we embark on a journey of discovery, we already have a picture in our minds of how the trip will unfold.

But even so, nothing compares to actually being there, and to the impression you are left with after seeing in person a monument, a historical building or a breathtaking natural setting.


There is a particular area in the northern part of Romania which has capture my attention a long time ago and which I have failed to present to you so far. I am talking about Maramures and while it is definitely impossible to tackle the subject adequately in one article, I will only focus on a particular attraction – even though a simple overview will not do justice to this land which abounds in cultural objectives, traditions and impressive landscapes.

An important attraction, which gathers thousands to these parts of Romania, is the Sapanta Cemetery, which is widely known as the Merry Cemetery. The name of the cemetery might seem puzzling at first sight, as it incorporates two words that have opposite meanings – for how can death have anything happy in it? But when you see the gravestones you immediately understand the meaning of the name. The gravestones are actually works of art which depict certain elements from the deceased life in a humoristic way. While death and the burring ceremony itself have always been treated as solemnly as humanly possible, the Sapanta Cemetery seems to give a new interpretation to human demise. It is indeed a sad moment when you lose someone, but instead of grieving, we should celebrate the individual’s life. And this is what the gravestones do: they portray the ones who had passed to the other side in a lively manner.

The first such gravestone was developed in 1935, by an unknown sculptor, Stan Ioan Patras, who made the inferior side of the cross wider in order to leave room for an epitaph. Soon afterwards merry gravestones sprung throughout the entire cemetery, being dyed in vivid colors and having funny and witty pictures on them.

But the idea for the cemetery did not spring out of nothing. There is a legend according to which the Dacic population had a joyous approach on death because for them it was a mere passage into another realm. Their belief was that life was infinite so death should have been cheered for it equated to transcendence to a better world where they were given the opportunity to meet the almighty god, Zalmoxe.

The work of Patras has brought to life a monumental artistic expression in which history, legend and tradition are intertwined. The scenes represented on the gravestones are connected to the cultural traits of the area meaning that women are represented baking bread, knitting or performing other household activities, while the men are portrayed as wood cutters, sheep herders or while working the land. None of the gravestones is completed without a small poem with simple rhymes. Access within the cemetery is possible after paying a small fee and even if the charge was high, I have to admit that it was worth it because you will see something that you have never seen before and which will change your view about the life- death dichotomy.