My guess is that a trip to a cemetery is not a priority on your to-do-list. But what if it would be a…. Merry Cemetery? Here, instead of mourning black, you will find a festival of colours. The crosses are not just the symbol of death, they are telling the story of life. It is the cemetery that celebrates life and humour more than anything else: the Merry Cemetery, Sapanta, Maramures (Cimitirul Vesel din Săpânța).
Today I kissed my hosts goodbye and left all by myself from Baia-Mare to Sapanta. From here onwards I continue my route through Romania by travelling solo. I knew what to expect in terms of road: serpentines, loads of cars and beautiful landscape. So for all these reasons I took it slow. It proved a beautiful drive and in no time, I got to my destination: the Merry Cemetery, Sapanta.
A festival of colours
The thing that hits you first when you enter the cemetery is the colourful atmosphere. There is nothing at first sight reminding you about death. The clear beautiful blue and the skillfully carved crosses seem aligned more like for a exhibition in a art gallery than in a cemetery. All that chaos of colours, drawings and engraved words create a perfect story: the story of life.
A cross, a painting & a poem
A wooden cross accompanies each grave. The cross is beautifully carved and painted with different models and colours.
The minimalist painting is usually depicting the buried person and his occupation: a woman spinning yarn, a priest making a blessing, farmers on tractors, a musician playing the instrument and so on.
The poem, written in a simple and archaic language, says a story: the story of life, the dead’s happiness or sorrows, his wishes or regrets. Some also say the story of how the person died. The poem can admire or criticize the dead.
Sprinkle some humour over death circumstances
It is not uncommon to hear loud laughs in the cemetery. That is because visitors read the poems and cannot stop themselves. The texts are all written in the same style, but some will make you laugh out loud, some will give you the goose bumps.
My favourite is the one below. It is written by a woman for her mother-in-law:
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 criticise me more.
But I will surely behave
So she’ll not return from grave,
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!
There are also some sad, even in the form of curses:
Burn in hell, you damn taxi
That came from Sibiu.
As large as Romania is
You couldn’t find another place to stop,
Only in front of my house to kill me?
… is written on the cross of a 3 years old girl.
Don’t take death too serious
This cemetery is the way the people from Sapanta chose to express their wish to defy death. And somehow it fits with the overall joy and good vibe you feel in Maramures. After you have spent few days in the region and you see the cemetery in Sapanta, you just say: yeah, this totally makes sense.
The Dacians and their joy in death
Ethnologists say Sapanta’s laughing cemetery is likely a reflection of attitudes that come from the time of the Dacians, early inhabitants of Romania, and have been passed down in folklore ever since. The historian Herodotus said the Dacians were fearless in battle and went laughing to their graves because they believed they were going to meet Zalmoxis, their supreme god.
I invite you to read more about the Merry Cemetery and the story behind (how the poems are written and how the idea was born)
Merry Cemetery: a must in your itinerary through Romania
I am almost angry at myself that I did not manage to see Sapanta Merry Cemetery before. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and is not just a colourful place. It is unique by its genesis, its philosophy, its continuity. It is a standing proof of people’s approach to life and a lesson that we should not take everything so serious.
A short recap
The journey continues. Cu dor de duca, with wanderlust…