A unique cemetery in Northern Romania, the Merry Cemetery is a must for anyone visiting the region.
Known for colourfully painted wooden crosses marking the tombstones, the Merry Cemetery is not a sad and sombre place but rather a cheerful place, full of colour and even a bit of humour!
Located in Maramureş county in the northern area of Romania, the Merry Cemetery is a popular tourist attraction and well worth a visit.
Over 800 beautifully painted crosses fill the cemetery, making it one of the most unique cemeteries in the world.
Where is the Merry Cemetery?
The Merry Cemetery, or Cimitirul Vesel in Romanian, is located in the village of Sǎpânţa, in the Maramureş area of Romania.
The Maramureş is Romania’s most traditional region and home to many villages where centuries-old traditions are still commonplace.
It’s often considered the last remaining peasant culture in Europe, but the area is also known for the UNESCO-listed wooden churches that dot the landscape.
While the wooden church in Sǎpânţa is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is worth a visit to see this very unique Romanian cemetery!
How did it start?
In 1935, a local wood sculptor named Stan Ioan Pǎtraş started carving wooden crosses to mark the graves in the Sǎpânţa cemetery.
By the 1960’s, the entire cemetery was adorned with these colourful crosses.
Although the original carver, Stan Pǎtraş, has since passed away, the tradition is carried on today by his apprentice, Dumitru Pop.
Today there are over 800 hand-made, painted crosses in the Merry Cemetery and it has become an open-air museum and national tourist attraction.
The Wooden Crosses at the Merry Cemetery
Marking the graves of the cemetery are colourful wooden crosses.
Painted a deep shade of blue, which represents hope and freedom, each cross is decorated with traditional patterns and has a unique painting and inscription.
Each painted cross tells a different story, describing the life and occupation of the people buried there.
A painted scene at the top of the cross illustrates the person, often depicting their occupation or sometimes how they died.
Under the painting is a poem describing the person. The poems are written in the first person, either by Pǎtraş or submitted by the families, and often contain a fair bit of humour and irony.
One of the more famous ones describes a mother-in-law, asking whoever is passing by to not wake her up!
Many traditional occupations are represented on these crosses, from hunters and farmers to weavers, carpenters and bakers.
It’s always interesting to imagine what life was like in previous times, but with these detailed paintings, it’s easier to picture the people and the lives they led.
The colours of the paintings were symbolic as well. The crosses are painted a deep blue colour, known as Săpânţa blue, which Pătraş believed represented hope, freedom, and the sky.
What makes the Merry Cemetery so unique?
The Merry Cemetery is unique, not only because of the gorgeous painted crosses, but also for the way that death was viewed.
Many European cultures view death as a sad and solemn event, but the Merry Cemetery takes a different view and celebrates life as it was lived.
Romanian history and culture was influenced by the Dacians, who were in present-day Romania long before the Romans arrived.
Dacian culture believed in eternal life and viewed death as not a sad event but rather a joyful celebration and a passage to the spiritual world.
The Merry Cemetery is certainly not a somber, sad place but rather a colourful and joyful place.
The illustrations and descriptions on the crosses are sure to put a smile on your face, even if you can’t read the descriptions.
How to get to the Merry Cemetery in Romania?
Buses run from Sighetu Marmaţiei to Sǎpânţa twice daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
If you are driving, the Merry Cemetery is 20km from Sighetu Marmaţiei, about 20 minutes heading west along DN19.
Good to Know:
Cost: Adults are 4 lei, children are 2 lei but ‘young children’ are free
(I’m not sure there is an exact age limit, my 4 year olds were just waved through).
There is an additional fee for video – 10lei.
Hours: Open 10am to 6pm.
Address: Sǎpânţa 437305, Romania
Other things to do nearby:
- Walk across the wooden bridge in Sighetu Marmatiei and enter the Ukraine. Be sure to take your passport!
- Visit the wooden churches of the Maramures, of which 8 are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Nearby in the village of Bârsana, visit the UNESCO wooden church or the newer Bârsana Monastery.
Final Thoughts: Visiting the Merry Cemetery
The Merry Cemetery is one of the most unique cemeteries in the world and definitely worth a visit.
We had the chance to visit during our two weeks in Romania and it was one of the highlights of our time in Romania. The hand-painted crosses are gorgeous and interesting to read about, and the whole atmosphere is much different than a traditional cemetery.
If you are exploring the Maramureş area, be sure to visit the Merry Cemetery!