Merry Cemetery: A Different Way to Look at Death

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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? 

READ NEXT: Cemeteries Around the World

 

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

If you're interested in doing the same tour I did, you can check it out here.

Explore Eastern Europe tour

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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64 Comments on “Merry Cemetery: A Different Way to Look at Death

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  1. 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.

      Yes I agree! I loved that this wasn’t just another sad cemetery.

    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.

    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! 🙂

      I agree! A place like this definitely makes death a little less morbid.

    What a gorgeous and unique place! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      I’m glad to be able to share something as cool as this with all of you!

    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.

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

    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.

      Very uplifting indeed – celebrating the dead instead of mourning them. I love it!

    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:)

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

    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.

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

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

      Hahaha, according to our Romania guide, he was milking the sheep. Suuuuuureeee….. 😉

    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!!!

      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!

    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

      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.

    These are very pretty… it’s always interesting to see how different places remember their dead!

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

    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.

      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!

        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??

          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.

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