Let us take you to the whimsical villages of Romania, where you'll see cottages in warm colors surrounded by evergreen foliage and mountains, all under the vast open skies. Just 2.5 miles from the border with Ukraine, in Maramureş county, there's a little village like so many others, by the name of Săpânța. In it there's a rather colorful and cheerful cemetery: the Merry Cemetery, locally know as Cimitirul Vesel. What makes this place so cheerful are the painted carvings on almost every cross, and the witty epitaphs for each person buried. According to the ancient Dacian culture, the soul is immortal and death is a moment filled with joy and anticipation for a better life. Accordingly, the cemetery is quite festive!
The predominant color is blue, traditionally representing freedom and hope. The carvings show scenes from the lives of the deceased. There are a little over 800 wooden crosses, all made by only two people: Stan Ion Pătraş, the founder of the cemetery, and his apprentice Dumitru Pop Tincu, who took over after Pătraş' death. His house is located right behind the cemetery and is now an operating museum called the “Casa Memoriala Stan Ioan Pătraş”, so if you visit make sure to give it a quick look. Mainly there are more wood carvings in the exhibition, as Pătraş was an artist in profession.
Pătraş built the first cross for himself in 1935. Here's what reads on the epitaph:
Since I was a little boy
I was known as Stan Ion Pătraş
Listen to me, fellows
There are no lies in what I am going to say
All along my life
I meant no harm to anyone
But did good as much as I could
To anyone who asked
Oh, my poor World
Because It was hard living in it
Enjoy another epitaph, this time a funnier one that catches the spirit of the Merry Cemetery:
Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother-in-law
Three more days should she 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 scold me more.
But I will surely behave
So she'll not return from the grave.
Stay here, my dear mother-in-law!
The closest urban center is Sighetu Marmatiei, the largest city in Maramureş. From there you can arrive in two ways:
1. A 25 minutes bus ride from the train station, that departs two times a day. Check times on the website or with your hotel reception.
2. Ridesharing: bare with us for the explanation, because it's about to get rural. Head to the west end of the town, and wait by the pharmacy. Once enough passengers gather, the ride will depart, costing you a maximum of 2$. Use the Romanian pronunciation: you are headed to sa-pants-sa. Good luck!
We leave you now to tour the rest of the cemetery alone. Scroll all the way down for the rest of the information
Entrance fees are 5 Lei a person which is about 1.5$ (in the rural areas, the currency is sometimes called Ron, the former name of the Romanian currency. It has the same value as Lei).
There is a small souvenir shop, but there isn't a bathroom.
Opening hours are 8:00 am -6:00 pm daily.