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The Merry Cemetery (Cimitirul Vesel) – Săpânța, Romania

The Merry Cemetery (Cimitirul Vesel) – Săpânța, Romania

Natalie Wynn

Many people think of cemeteries as gloomy places of mourning.  It’s difficult to associate a cemetery with a place of happiness and celebration when all you can think about is how much you miss the person when you visit their grave.

However, a man named Stan Ioan Pătraş, from the small village of Săpânța in Romania, have found a way to turn cemeteries into joyful places meant to celebrate the lives of loved ones, rather than grieve their loss.

Pătraş founded the aptly-named Cimitirul Vesel, or Merry Cemetery, in the 1930s. He began creating colorful, cross-shaped tombstones and writing epitaphs for the village people who had passed away. Now, the cemetery contains over 800 similar graves.

Each tombstone is painted with a base of a signature blue color and then detailed with brightly-colored lines and patterns. The epitaphs are silly but the meaningful lyrical poems describe something significant about the person’s life.

Along with the poems, paintings of scenes from the person’s life are included as well, usually having to do with their occupation or some other striking characteristic, such as a teacher at a desk or alcoholic drinking.

The epitaphs and paintings are often whimsical, and sometimes even satirical. Pătraş himself passed away in 1977, and he is now buried in the Merry Cemetery with a colorful tomb and a poetic epitaph to call his own. His work is continued by Dumitru Pop Tincu, his apprentice.

The Merry Cemetery has its roots in the local Dacian culture, which views death as an adventure, a joyful passing to the next life. It’s quite the contrast to our Western view that death is a tragedy that should be grieved and mourned.

If it were up to you, would you want to be buried in a place like this? It’s definitely not something most of us are used to, but it’s pretty refreshing to see a place that’s usually so weighed down with grief become so light-hearted and celebratory.

Now a popular tourist attraction, the Merry Cemetery is a beautiful way to keep the village of Săpânța alive and running, long after the members have passed. Their memories are cherished and celebrated as this cemetery provides a link between this world and the next. It feels odd to call a cemetery merry, but this one really is.

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