On the second day of our Romanian Road Trip, after we had an awesome train ride in Mocanita, we drove about 80 km to Sapanta village to see this surprising, Merry Cemetery.
When I say “cemetery,” what do you picture?
Is your picture fairly dark; morose; depressing? Especially because, in Western culture, death is usually a dark, morose, and depressing subject… well, not the Merry Cemetery.
It has a very unique claim to fame.
This cemetery is unlike any I have ever seen; in fact, it’s unlike any other cemetery in the world.
Here, instead of the usual boring stone grave markers and marble mausoleums that populate just about every other graveyard in the world, each plot is adorned with a colorfully-painted wooden cross, with a poem for a epitaph.
The cemetery is just behind the Church of the Assumption in this small town of 5,000 (living) souls in northern Romania. It is known as the Cimitirul Vesel – the Merry Cemetery. It’s called that with good reason.
The place is so beautiful that was included by Bloomberg in the top 12 most beautiful cemeteries in the world:
Everything started in about 1930’s, when a carpenter, named Stan Ioan Patras, made the first cross for his friend that died at an early age, and from here he carved crosses until his death in 1977. Now, another carpenter, Dumitru Pop carries on the tradition. When someone in the village dies, the family comes to Pop and asks him to create a cross, which he hand-carves from oak in the small workshop behind his house, just around the corner from the church. Pop alone decides what the picture will portray and what the verse will say.
He is making about 20-30 crosses a year, depending…well…you can guess.
The cemetery has about 700 graves and even though it’s an extremely popular place both for his occupants and also for tourists.
A funny poem lies on a tombstone of an old woman who was someone’s mother-in-law.
“Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother in-law
Three more days she would have lived
I would lie, and she would read (this cross).
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
Cause’ if she comes back home
She’ll criticism me more.
But I will surely behave
So she’ll not return from grave.
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!”
The poems are really interesting and can offer to the tourist a great insight into the lives of simple and honest people who lived in Sapanta village.
One thing is for sure, I can’t remember ever smiling so much in a cemetery.
How to reach Sapanta?
To get to the Merry Cemetery, in Sapanta Village, you will have to get to the North of Romania. The closest airport is in Oradea City at a distance of 217 kilometers. Sapanta village is located at 18 kilometers from Sighetu Marmatiei Town.
The best option is a rental. If you don’t fancy driving there are a lot of tours that can organize a visit for you.
*Entry to Merry Cemetery will cost you 5 LEI, which is about 1 Euro.