During my four months stay in Romania the place I liked most was a … cemetery. I know, it sounds creepy and most of the time I avoid going to places that make me sad. But Merry Cemetery is neither sad nor creepy. It is in fact the happiest place I have ever seen in Europe!
You will find this unusual cemetery in the northernmost part of Romania, on the border with Ukraine. The village is called Sapanta, Maramures County, and it is known for its “happy cemetery”.
At that time I and my husband were living in Transylvania (in Cluj-Napoca), beautiful part of Romania characterized with its pastoral landscapes and Austro-Hungarian cultural heritage. In addition to visiting the Dracula Castle, some Germanic churches and old towns, we were able to go north to the very end of the country. The region next to the Romanian-Ukrainian border is beautiful and has some of the most beautiful wooden houses and street gates from solid wood.
What is so special about Merry Cemetery that attracts people from all over the world? It’s because is the only cemetery in the whole world that celebrates life instead mourning the death.
We went there in a cold but sunny winter day. I didn’t know what to expect and even was not very excited to visit a cemetery. We just knew that it is something special. The village is typical and doesn’t have much to offer. The houses look similar to the Ukrainian (something that I will learn much latter during my expat period in Ukraine) and the life is slow paced.
I loved that cemetery. It didn’t feel like cemetery. Even under the snow cover the graves looked beautiful and made us smile. Although we couldn’t read the inscriptions, we were able to understand what the memorials were saying.
Oh, look, this man was a musician, I was saying to my husband. He was playing at weddings! Or – look, this woman was baker, making bread for the village.
The texts on the tombstone crosses are epitaphs, sometimes anecdotes, often written by the family members. They represent the deceased people with their most typical traits – what they loved to do, what made them happy.
The tradition of the painted crosses started back in 1935 and today the place is still working cemetery even if becoming popular tourist site with every year. Walking around these tombstones is like reading an almanac. In this almanac you see the names and most important facts about people (same way you would register information about stars), a universe of lives and stories, each one of them with its own color and life existence.
Many of the tombstones will make you smile, others will shock you as they show the way the person died. In all likelihood, you will change the way you think about death and burial. Death should not be dark matter; it is part of the life circle. What’s the most important is the way we live our lives and what we leave behind.
Another local attraction that you can visit is the Sapanta-Peri monastery church. It is surely interesting site that represents the typical wooden architecture of the region. To me the church seemed strange and I couldn’t understand its organization. It looked like a big pile of wood, certainly beautiful.
Have you been to ‘creepy’ places that you cannot forget? How they made you feel?
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