The Merry Cemetery of Săpânța, Romania

Text & photos Copyright © Estrella Azul

A FEW YEARS BACK I wrote about how the Day of the Dead (also known around the world as Day of Remembrance, All Saints’ day, All Hallows Tide, or All Hallows’ Day) is celebrated on November 1st in certain parts of Romania—as well as several Eastern European countries.

Wooden crosses in vivid colors.

To celebrate this year’s Day of the Dead, I want to show you a cemetery that’s very different from what you’ve most likely ever seen before: The Merry Cemetery of Săpânța.

Crosses painted in a distinctive blue, which supposedly has a secret recipe.

As it mainly is around the world, in most European societies death is viewed as something solemn and dark. The word “merry” doesn’t usually describe a cemetery, right? I know, it doesn’t, but bear with me for a moment.

Scenes of a woman cooking, and a man milking goats.

Located in a village in Maramureș County in northern Romania, the over 800 tombstones in the Merry Cemetery are not what is seen in a regular cemetery.

Scenes of everyday life in the Merry Cemetery.

These tombstone crosses are made of wood and colorfully painted on a distinctive blue background, ornate with floral borders and carved with hand chisels—in keeping with the woodworking tradition of Maramureș County.

Colorful geometric shapes decorating the wooden crosses.

In my opinion, they’re true works of art.

They each contain an epitaph, usually in a simple iambic tetrameter, poetically describing the lives of the people buried there.

They’re mostly written in first person, as if each person made a summary of their lives themselves before passing away.

A ranger’s tomb whose epitaph says he won a national award.

The crosses depict portraits of the deceased and scenes of everyday life, such as praying, sitting around a table enjoying a meal, cleaning carpets, tending to flower gardens or cooking.

Rows and rows of ornate crosses at the Merry Cemetery.

They also show the type of work each person did while still alive: soldiers in uniforms, a postman, auto mechanics, women spinning wool or men driving tractors and working the fields.

Postman delivers a letter.

Sometimes they even show how people died, such as the cross highlighting a little girl being hit by a car or that of a worker on a field being struck by lightning.

It’s definitely a different and fun perspective on death passed down in folklore.

Some of the crosses started to fade in time, while others aren’t yet finished.

One of the most popular epitaphs there, and one that many people believe to be fake, is that of a woman whose son-in-law supposedly wrote it for her. The scene on the cross depicts the mother-in-law with a hand up in the air pointing her finger as if telling off her son-in-law.

Here’s the translation:

Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother-in-law
Three more days should she have lived
I would lie here, and she would read (this cross).
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
‘Cause if she comes back home
She’ll criticize me more.
But I will surely behave
So she’ll not return from grave.
You all who read this
Like me don’t you end up
Find a good mother-in-law
And live only well with her.

A son-in-law’s epitaph for his mother-in-law, who died at 82 years old in 1969.

Personally, I’d like to believe it’s a real one, but even if not, it’s still funny!

Aside from the painted crosses for each tomb, Merry Cemetery also has a beautiful and very colorful church on its grounds, similar to the wooden churches that made it on to the UNESCO World Heritage List. At the time of my visit it was undergoing renovations, so unfortunately I don’t have my own picture of it.

Close-up of the mother-in-law (bottom left) and the ranger’s (top right) epitaph, and rows of colorful crosses from the cemetery.

The cemetery has slowly, but surely, become an open-air museum that hundreds of tourists visit yearly.

Tombs of a woman depicted as cleaning carpets, a miner and a priest. (Left to right)

If you ever get a chance to visit Maramureș County in northern Romania, the Merry Cemetery is a sight you shouldn’t miss. I guarantee you’ll be smiling!


Estrella in the Greek Amphitheatre ruins, Taormina, Sicily

Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, she currently serves as the photo editor here at Milliver’s Travels, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©. Read more of her stories on Milliver’s Travels by visiting Estrella’s story index.

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One Comment

  1. Maramures is my favorite place in Romania. So many things to do and visit…

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