The Sapanta Merry Cemetery is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the country, attracting annually an impressive number of tourists from all over the world. The locals of Sapanta have earned a place on the map of high value tourist attractions thanks to the always positive attitude that reinforces the main quality of the Romanians, that of making fun of trouble. In Sapanta, even a gloomy place like the cemetery in the commune has been transformed, with the locals choosing to honour the departed among them in a unique way, with good cheer and smiles. Each cross in the cemetery is painted in cheerful colours, and many of them contain verses illustrating in a humorous way the life of the departed loved ones.
History of the Sapanta Merry Cemetery
Sapanta did not always have the Merry Cemetery with its satirical poems and epitaphs. Before the inspired idea of the painter and sculptor Stan Ion Patras who laid the foundations of the cemetery in 1930, Sapanta was a place like any other. What made it different, however, along with the talent of the craftsman responsible for creating over a hundred of the crosses in the cemetery, was the open attitude towards the natural cycle of life. Stan Ion Patras came up with the idea, and the villagers embraced it.
The tradition of celebrating death as a transcendence rather than the end or loss of loved ones dates back to the time of the Dacians. The Dacian warriors celebrated every death as a cause for joy for those who reached the supreme god, Zamolxe.
Inspired perhaps by this tradition or simply by the desire to bring smiles to the faces of those burdened by fate, craftsman Stan Ion Patras began carving cheerful crosses and writing funny epitaphs shortly after the cemetery was founded in 1934, when a poor woman whose husband had just died asked him to help her make a cross. Wishing to bring a ray of joy to the woman, the sculptor created a cross in the shape of a troita, made of oak, with scenes representative of the deceased’s life and a short text in the first person, in the form of a short story. Since then the cemetery has been filled with crosses, stories and cheerful, naive, brightly coloured paintings that bring optimism to a place that is traditionally one of solemnity and sadness.
Today, when asked about the Sapanta Merry Cemetery, the villagers are convinced that by taking a unique approach to the inevitable, relatives and loved ones live forever. They appreciate the cheerful epitaphs, often written in the first person, because they make the visit to the graves of their loved ones one that calls for smiles rather than tears. The work of Master Patras, who left the living 40 years after the first cross was placed in the Cemetery, is continued today by his apprentice, Dumitru Pop Tincu.
How do you get to the Merry Cemetery?
Sapanta is a village in Maramures county, located just 4 km from the border with Ukraine. It is famous for its cheerful cemetery and the specific color of the crosses, Sapanta Blue. To get to Sapanta, most tourists come to the Merry Cemetery from Baia Mare direction where they check in to visit the many tourist attractions in the area, including the beautiful Maramuresian monasteries or the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance in Sighet.
From Baia Mare to Sapanta it takes a little more than an hour and a half by car, the distance being 86 km. We recommend the route on DN 18 through Sugatag – Sat – Giulesti – Sighetul Marmatiei and Sapanta. The road is good and the view is absolutely stunning.
Accommodation in the area
The Sapanta area is full of rustic guesthouses, superb for those who want to experience the culture and lifestyle of the place without sacrificing the comfort of fully equipped accommodation options. Alternatively, one can choose accommodation in Baia Mare, with Spanta easily accessible in a day trip, stopping at a few other tourist attractions in the area.
The entrance fee to the cemetery is 5 lei, and for photos and filming additional fees are charged: 5 lei for photos and 10 lei for amateur filming. Around the cemetery there are souvenir fairs with extremely affordable prices, so it is recommended to visit Sapanta with a budget that includes a stop at the traditional restaurants in the area and buying some souvenirs.