In the most northern part of Romania, literally just yards from the Ukraine boarder, lies the small village of Sapanta. This town has become a tourist attraction due to its unusual cemetery with hand carved, brightly painted blue crosses and witty rhymes about the deceased’s life, the Merry Cemetery. Sometimes there is an epitaph of what caused their death.
The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, Romania
Sometimes my travel plans are made for little reason and void of much research. Other times, my trips are 100% based on seeing a particular site. My reason for selecting the town of Baia Sprie in northern Romania as base camp was to visit this Merry Cemetery. We discovered there were better towns to stay in, but that is hind sight. The cemetery seemed so very unique with grave markers of such bright colors. The colors on the oak carvings have meaning, green for life and red for passion. White doves depicted the soul and a black bird represented a tragedy. The occupations of the departed depicted above are not as clear as some other markers in the cemetery. But my guess is the one on the left is a man who danced or was part of a local band, next a lady very devoted to her religion, a milk maiden and the fourth might be a housewife who liked to read books, or maybe she is searching for a new recipe.
We can only imagine what may be said about the man below begging for money at the entrance to the cemetery.
Church of the Assumption, Beliefs and Cemetery
Zalmoxianism is the religion followed by many of the residents of this small Romanian town. Their strong belief in immortality leads them to view death as merely going to Zalmoxis and is not a time of great sorrow. In 1935 Stan Patras ( Pătraş ), then 14 years old and a local parishioner, started carving cemetery crosses. Stan later added witty poems describing the life of the deceased, or possibly how they died. The interpretations of the poems vary widely, since they are written in a local Romanian dialect and have grammatical errors and local-isms. During his lifetime Stan carved around 800 brightly colored blue crosses. The crosses he created were not affordable by all local residents, nor could all who purchased the crosses afford the fees for periodic refurbishing. My financial background says Stan built himself quite a good recession-proof business with a reoccurring revenue stream.
The family of the departed made no suggestions about what should be said on the grave marker. There are no secrets in a small town said Stan, so some of the crosses refer to infidelity or too much booze. Stan said in an interview that he never received any complaints from the surviving families. He also kept a book of notes, hearing bits of gossip around town, knowing the information would eventually come in handy. An apprentice took over this booming business after Stan’s death in 1977 who carved Stan’s own cross, prominently displayed in the church courtyard.
From a photography viewpoint in the photo below, I was attracted by how the peaked roofs of the nearby houses matched the peaks of the markers.
Regardless of the religious beliefs of the locals, it still seemed a bit out of place to have so many tourists and those crazy photographers climbing on and around the graves. There are so many people and so much demand that admission is charged to the cemetery, with an extra fee for serious photographers. Much of this money may be going toward a major renovation of the actual church, which would be good. The tourists seem to be a large invasion of this small town on the one hand, but then have provided the opportunity for the locals to sell rugs, clothing and other unique handmade items to the tourists.
Source of Inspiration for my Romanian Visit
I must once again give a shout-out to Facebook friends Dave and Bonnie for making me aware of not just the Merry Cemetery, but for giving me the courage to rent a car and travel around the Romanian countryside for a month. For anyone interested in serious retirement travel, visit their site for ideas of what to see along the way. You will see they are the true professional world travelers. Visit their site at: http://www.vagabonandave.com/
After doing some traveling of my own, I now recognize and appreciate what an amazing travel schedule Bonnie and Dave have kept over the years.
Examples of the Witty Poems
Interpretation of the carved poems is difficult because of the unique local dialect. Obviously the English translations lack the rhyming and rhythm of the originals, but hopefully we get the general original meaning.
Death by Taxi
Burn in hell, you damn taxi
That came from Sibiu
As wide as the Romanian Country is
You couldn’t stop anywhere else
But near our house
Grieving my parents
For nothing they will grieve more
Under this heavy cross
my poor mother-in-law lies
Three more days she would have lived
I would lay, and she would read
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
For if she comes home
She’ll bite my head off
But I shall behave so
As not to bring her forth
Those of you who read this
Do not do as I did
And find yourselves a good mother-in-law
To live with her in peace
I liked to Drink
“Here I rest.
Stefan is my name.
As long as I lived, I liked to drink.
When my wife left me,
I drank because I was sad.
Then I drank more
to make me happy.
So, it wasn’t so bad
that my wife left me,
Because I got to drink
with my friends.
I drank a lot,
and now, I’m still thirsty.
So you who come
to my resting place,
Leave a little wine here
Carvings with Obvious Occupations
LESS Clear Occupations Scenes