What to see in Romania
Tourist attractions Merry Cemetery
The words ‘merry’ and ‘cemetery’ aren't often seen together, but this unique sight in Maramures Country, Romania goes against the grain to celebrate the life of its deceased locals. Located in the small village of Sapanta, Merry Cemetery is a cacophony of colourful tombstones and one of the world’s most unusual burial places.
Adorning each tombstone is a brightly coloured painting and an accompanying poem. This beautiful and unique tradition began in 1935 when local folk craftsman, Stan Ioan Patras, felt inspired to brighten up the village cemetery with cheerful poems and paintings. Many of the paintings depict the deceased villagers undertaking their favourite hobbies and occupations, whilst others include whimsical portrayals of their cause of death.
The poems, written from a first-person perspective, act as cheerful epitaphs, many of which are humorous and help visitors and family members alike to remember the deceased when they were alive, rather than mourning their death. Patras was known to spend time with the families of the deceased to gain a good picture of their lives, loves and legacy. Only then would he begin to immortalise them in the detail they deserved. Visiting Merry Cemetery is the chance to remember the lives of hundreds of Sapanta’s villagers and to contemplate a different perspective of life and death.
Each of the 800 or more crosses are a bright blue colour, traditionally a symbol of hope and freedom. Other important colours included in the painted tombstones of the Merry Cemetery are green, red and yellow, which symbolise life, passion and fertility, respectively. The man behind this great work is also buried in the cemetery, with his own handmade tombstone, portrait and poem. Following Patras’ death in 1977, his apprentice, Dumitru Pop, took over this bizarre yet beautiful tradition and continues to craft between 20 and 30 crosses a year, at the request of local families.
A trip to the Merry Cemetery makes for a memorable, yet moving experience and this unique sight is often included as part of a wider tour of Romania.