Happy cemetery in Sapanca (Romania) has the title of the strangest monument on the UNESCO heritage list as well as the most amazing cemetery in the world! When you come to province of Maramuresz in the northern part of the country, you will feel like the time has stopped! Cimitirul Vesel (name of the cemetery in Romanian) is the work of Stan Ioan Patras, who was a local artist. Talented sculptor, poet, painter which created the first cross for the cemetery at the age of 14. I visited Happy Cemetery during my Romania – Moldova trip and I must say that was surely a hightlight of the country.
What makes Cimitirul Vesel happy?
Cimitirul Vesel depicts hundreds of colorful wood carvings in fanciful graves. Hand-painted images of the deceased together with short ironic poems which describe people with humor and distance. Strolling through the cemetery, you see certain people occupation: farmer or shepherd, as well as how a person died. Plenty of sculptures show a car accident, alcoholism or an agricultural accident.
For instance there is a grave of a local drunkard, who was torn from the bar by death. You can see a farmer who, contrary to tradition, worked in the field on July 20th, Saint Elijah’s Day. As the custom preaches, who does not obey the holiday will be put to the wrath of Elijah. What happened in this case – thunderbolt killed the disobedient farmer! On the other side we see a soldier who, probably after the shooting the Hungarian soldier, cut off his head!
Graveyard without sadness
The cemetery in Sapanca denied the principle of mourning. Almost every citizen before his death managed to emphasize in different ways: “Do not cry for me, because I do not expect it from you.”
Ioan Stan Patras drew inspiration from the surrounding nature of the Maramuresz region. The green used by the artist is a symbol of life, forest and birth. Red – passion, fire or maturity. Yellow is sun, corn, straw hats and youth. Black means fighting and old age. For all this, the heavenly blue crosses – they have even been given the name Sapanta Blue and is a symbol of heaven, purity, something beyond the earthly life.
Each grave on Cimitirul Vesel is a separate story, to understand it you do not need to know Romanian. However, it is worth to play with the translation of the inscriptions, because those are real gems. For example: Here lies my mother-in-law, if she lived a year longer, I would lie here instead.
Each of these crosses is a unique piece of art. All in all, they create an extraodrinary portrait of this small community, which even after death seems to be living! The cemetery is still growing, because every 5,000 inhabitants of Sapanta can get the cheerful grave for themselves. Since Patras death in 1977 (before carving his grave himself), happy cemetery business was taken over by his student Dumitru Pop.
Are you afraid of death in your country?
I have the impression that we are looking at death not as the natural order of life circle, but as the curse. In the face of its inevitability we are all equally defenseless. Generally speaking, it is accompanied by tears, sadness, helplessness. In Sapanta, the inhabitants, realizing that no one can win the fight against human nature, so decided to make friends with the death. With a sense of distance and black humor impossible to accept for certain religious cultures, death is their gateway to another adventure. It makes it easier for them to live, and as you know, those who are not afraid to live do not fear to die.