During my four months’ stay in Romania, the place I liked the most was … the Merry 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!
At that time, I lived in Cluj-Napoca. The city is the capital of Transylvania, known as the home to the world’s fictional best-known vampire, Dracula. (I visited one of his castles, but that is another story.)
It is a beautiful part of Romania, characterized by its pastoral landscapes and Austro-Hungarian cultural heritage. In addition to visiting the Dracula Castle, some Germanic churches and old towns, I had the chance to travel 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 made from solid timber.
Where to find the Merry Cemetery
You will find this unusual cemetery in the northernmost part of Romania, on the very border with Ukraine. The village is called Sapanta, Maramures County. It is best known for its “happy cemetery”.
Sapanta is at three and a half hours drive from Cluj-Napoca. You can get to Cluj-Napoca by low-cost airline flights. Before the COVID-19 crisis, I think Wizz Air had direct flights from several European destinations. Alternatively, you can fly to Bucharest, and then drive to Cluj and Sapanta. Romania is a beautiful country. A road trip, especially in summer, will give an amazing opportunity to get to know it better. You can also check the available organised tours.
What Merry Cemetery is so special
What is so special about Merry Cemetery that attracts people from all over the world?
The magic of the Merry Cemetery is in the fact that is the only cemetery (as far as I know) that celebrates life instead of mourning the death. It is a joyful place to be.
We visited the cemetery in a cold but sunny winter day of 2004. I didn’t know what to expect and even remember that I wasn’t excited to go. I can only guess that back then it wasn’t that popular tourist attraction, especially internationally. The village’s charm is in the many traditionally-built houses. Their architecture and style look similar to Ukrainian homes.
I loved that visit because it didn’t feel like a cemetery. Under the snow cover, the graves looked beautiful and made me smile. Although I couldn’t read the epitaphs, I understood that they are humoristic. The colourfully painted scenes helped to guess the personal stories.
How and when it all started
The tradition of the painted tombstones started back in 1935. Today, the place is still working cemetery even if becoming more and more popular tourist site with every year. 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 most important is the way we live our lives and what we leave behind.
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