When I say “old cemetery,” what do you picture?

Crumbling tombstones? Grand old mausoleums? Overgrown shrubbery?

Chances are, whatever you picture is fairly dark; morose; depressing. Because, in Western culture especially, Death is usually a dark, morose, and depressing subject. Even though old cemeteries may be grand and people may visit them (yes, cemetery tourism is a thing), they nearly all project a feeling of sadness to some degree, no matter where in the world they are located.

But not Merry Cemetery.

Merry Cemetery, Romania

Merry Cemetery, Romania

How could you possibly be depressed here?

Not far from the small town of Sighetu Marmaţiei in the Maramures region of Romania lies Săpânţa, an unassuming little village where it seems like nothing has changed for the past 100 years. Farmers still go about their work in horse-drawn carts, and old women still wear patterned scarves on their heads.

But Săpânţa has a very unique claim to fame — it is home to Cimitirul Vesel, or “Merry Cemetery.”

Merry Cemetery, Romania

Merry Cemetery, Romania

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.

Merry Cemetery, Romania

Merry Cemetery, Romania

The crosses — mostly blue with other bright highlights — show a photo of the deceased (pictured either at the moment of death, or doing his/her favorite thing in life) and offer up a glimpse into the lives of the dead through fun — and sometimes funny — poems.

This cemetery is far from being a place for solemn reflection.

In fact, you could say it’s downright light-hearted!

Merry Cemetery, Romania

Merry Cemetery, Romania

A man by the name of Stan Ioan Pătraş began the tradition of these crosses back in 1935, and his work was carried on by one of his apprentices, Dumitru Pop (AKA Tincu). The crosses were Pătraş’ unique way of immortalizing his community in a way that celebrated life instead of mourning death.

Each poem/epitaph is written in the first person (in Romanian), and Pătraş would usually write these little anecdotes himself after getting to know the deceased through his/her family. Families could also write their own poems, however, and it’s often these ones that are the most humorous.

Merry Cemetery, Romania

There was one epitaph written by a man about his mother-in-law… I’m sure you can imagine how it went!

Many crosses depict a cause of death (a common one being car/truck accidents), but others focus on hobbies and occupations — things that made these people happy.

Merry Cemetery, Romania

Car accidents are depicted here aplenty.

Merry Cemetery, Romania

This man really loved communism.

There are, of course, bizarre and amusing crosses, too. (And lucky we had a Romanian guide with us who could tell us some of the best stories.)

Merry Cemetery, Romania

This man was murdered and buried without his head.

Merry Cemetery, Romania

THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE!

And, while most epitaphs simply explain a bit about each person’s life, others act as warnings to those who might read them.

Merry Cemetery, Romania

This man was a drunk and probably a cheat. The double-headed black dove at the top indicates his family was worried that he might be judged a sinner.

Today, Merry Cemetery is a national historic site that sees a trickle of visitors each day (though it’s also still a functioning cemetery and locals can be buried here if they wish). It makes a fun afternoon stop if you’re in the Maramures region to check out some of Romania’s UNESCO-recognized painted churches, and is well worth a detour.

Merry Cemetery, Romania

In the end, this quote from the cemetery says it all:

The Merry Cemetery is a unique place of pilgrimage. It is a place where people come to mourn their dead, but, above all, it is a place expressing in a very deep and optimistic manner the true meanings and beauties of life.

I think the world needs more Merry Cemeteries.

How about you? 

 

*Entry to Merry Cemetery will cost you 5 LEI, plus another 5 LEI if you want a photo license (less than $3 USD total).

*Note: I am on a complimentary “Explore Eastern Europe” tour with Intrepid Travel, but all opinions are completely my own.

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48 Responses to Merry Cemetery: A Different Way to Look at Death

  1. Megan says:

    This is so cool! I wish that more of these existed; I would totally be buried in one. I love how the grave markers tell a story, and how it’s more a celebration of life than a somber memorial.
    Megan recently posted..Destination: Nishiki Market, Kyoto, Japan

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Those are the same reasons that I really loved this place, too. I’m so used to those gray and depressing cemeteries, or the old overgrown ones. This one was so interesting and different!

      • Rosie says:

        I love the art work and the idea of celebrating someones life with an illustration of a funny memory. Are there english spoken tours available where you can hear some of the stories??

        • DangerousBiz says:

          Unfortunately I don’t think there are regular tours of the cemetery (there should be, though!!). I was with a small group and we were touring all of the Maramures region of Romania, meaning we did have a guide with us who could translate the grave markers for us.

  2. Hogga says:

    These are very pretty… it’s always interesting to see how different places remember their dead!
    Hogga recently posted..Dear Las Vegas, We Can’t Be Friends

    • DangerousBiz says:

      They are indeed pretty, aren’t they? It’s cool to find a spot where death is a bit more lighthearted.

  3. Rich Polanco says:

    What an interesting place! Here, people bring food during day of the dead in November. Lots of fancy food, which people share and eat right there.

    Cool find!

    -Rich
    Rich Polanco recently posted..You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Stay at The Most Beautiful Lake in The World

    • DangerousBiz says:

      One of the things I love best about travel is to see how traditions both differ and overlap around the world. Though, this cemetery is certainly unique! I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.

  4. Jaime says:

    I love visiting cemeteries if I can while I am in different cities around the world! I was actually going to ask this question soon on my FB page…lol. I love this cemetery… it’s so colorful & beautiful. Nice photos!!!
    Jaime recently posted..Oh India I hate you… I hate you not!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I visit quite a good number of cemeteries when I travel, too. (I have a future post planed on cemetery tourism, actually!) But I’ve never been to one as unique as this!

  5. This IS a very happy cemetery indeed. And what ARE the man and that goat doing if it is NOT what it looks like???

  6. As you know I am obsessed with cemeteries, and I love this one. I’ve never seen anything like it and hope to see it for myself one day.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Punk Tango in Buenos Aires

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I find myself going to more and more cemeteries these days on my travels. And this one is hands-down my favorite!!

  7. Arti says:

    Such a different place to what we usually expect!! A very Happy name too, just loved the way the signs and symbols tell the story. Wish you a wonderful week ahead Amanda:)

    • DangerousBiz says:

      It’s certainly a special place, and I’m really glad I had the chance to visit, and share it with you!

  8. memographer says:

    So, a bottom line:
    - Can the death be fun?
    - Yes, it can ;)
    memographer recently posted..Salzburg: Mirabell Palace in Polaroids

  9. Juliann says:

    Great post and pictures! I’d love to see this in person. I’ve never minded cemeteries or found them very solemn. I like to take walks in a few near my house. But it would almost be like a festive picnic at Merry Cemetery, wouldn’t it? Very uplifting.
    Juliann recently posted..I’d Be Remiss if I didn’t Mention Manneken Pis

  10. How unusual!! I like the idea of cemeteries like this. I think it is refreshing to focus on what people liked to do while alive.
    Ruth (Tanama Tales) recently posted..How to Live an Off the Beaten Path Life

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, I liked that about it too, Ruth. It makes it more about life than death, which is a positive thing.

  11. What a unique place! Great pics!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Hong Kong: Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (Part 2)

  12. Andrea says:

    What a gorgeous and unique place! Thanks for sharing :)

  13. wandergirl says:

    This is so cute! What a fun way to remember a loved one. Being buried still kind of gives me the heebie jeebies, but if it was fun and pretty and humorous like this, I don’t think I’d mind! :)
    wandergirl recently posted..Travelling from home: A Middle Eastern-inspired birthday menu

  14. I ran into the Merry Cemetery while doing research for a blog post. I then added it to my list of must sees! I think the attitude of the cemetery is amazing and agree we need more of these through out the world.
    Debbie @ European Travelista recently posted..Europe’s Natural Monuments

  15. Love this post! Your photos and narratives are amazing. I’ll love to visit this cemetery. Looks like a really merry place to be. I know it’s sad when our love ones pass away, but I believe that they head to a much better place and we should celebrate for them.
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Santorini Part 2: Days after Our Tiny, Skinny Greek Wedding

  16. Sabrina says:

    That sure looks different! I like the ones focusing on life much better than the ones depicting the cause of death. Especially with the merry focus, they kind of fit better too I think.
    Sabrina recently posted..Texas Weekend Getaway: Galveston & The Strand

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, I think I agree! Though, some of them were just amusing, even if they were focusing on the death of someone.

  17. [...] can still find quirky places like Merry Cemetery that nobody knows about. Villages still feel like villages. And the cows still come home at [...]

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  20. [...] which is an old Gothic-style church. Also check out the nearby German graveyard. Unlike Merry Cemetery, this graveyard IS a bit overgrown and solemn, but it’s alright for a quiet [...]

  21. [...] of the summer for me. We began in the picturesque Maramures region, visiting monasteries and a happy cemetery. Next it was on to colorful Sighisoara, rural Viscri, and the tourist center of Brasov before [...]

  22. Ryan Brown says:

    That is so bizarre, but what a fantastic way to view and celebrate death. I normally do think of old tombstones and weeping willows, but I love how “alive” this cemetery is.
    Ryan Brown recently posted..Death: My Travel Inspiration.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I’ve been to quite a few cemeteries on my travels around the world, but this is by far my favorite. Calling it “alive” is spot-on!

  23. Ivona says:

    I just visited this cemetery and I really liked it. It was a pity I didn’t have so much time available to read all the stories. For me, the funniest I found was the one related to the mother-in-law written by the son-in-law: “here rests my mother-in-law, if she would live for few more days, I would be berried and she will read this, please do not make noise, so she won’t be awakened!”. Unfortunately, I cannot reproduce the rhymes in Romanian.
    Ivona recently posted..Exploring London, first day

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha, yes I remember being told about that one! It’s such a cool cemetery. I was lucky to have a guide with me who was able to interpret some of the stories.

  24. [...] >> Read about Merry Cemetery here. [...]

  25. Marsha says:

    This is fantastic! I love cemeteries and tombs; this is amazing. I love the pictures and stories; so colourful.
    Marsha recently posted..Red Square Moscow

  26. Aurelia says:

    What an unusual cemetery. When I travelled to Northern Argentina (near Bolivia) I was surprised by the colourful Indian cemeteries. Quite as colourful like the one you pictured in your post. It had a nice feel to it, as if it was a place to celebrate more than to weep.
    Aurelia recently posted..5 Things to Do in Buenos Aires: March 31 to April 6

    • DangerousBiz says:

      You can find colorful cemeteries in Central America, as well as in Asia, too (I saw a very colorful one in Vietnam, for example). This one definitely celebrates life, though! The little stories on each grave marker make it so unique.

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