DESTINATION: ROMANIA/ Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, place where Maramures folk art makes fun of death

 •  Destination: Romania
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The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, which is part of the UNESCO heritage, is one of Romanians' most popular holiday destinations but also of foreigners, who are impressed with the metaphors written by folk craftsmen on the crosses in the cemetery situated in the very centre of the village.

Photo credit: (c) Bogdan BARBULESCU / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The fun making, the joking tone but also the irony illustrates in only a few stanzas the life of those who passed away, the Merry Cemetery being one of the few final resting places in Europe where visitors look with amusement at the past of some strangers. Annually, tour operators from Maramures County say that tens of thousands of people visit the cemetery either in an organized tourism form or in a private one.

"It is one of the landmarks of Maramures County, along with other three to four attractions that spark the interest also abroad. The villagers were quite inspired and developed small crafts that confer value to the area through small souvenirs which tourists take home to remind them of their brief passage through Sapanta. The area has a huge tourist potential, but as any other place in Maramures, it is insufficiently promoted and capitalised on from a tourism standpoint," says Viorel Tura, the manager of a travel agency.

Photo credit: (c) Bogdan BARBULESCU / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

In the past 20 years, Sapanta has positioned quite well on the map of domestic and foreign routes, and locals, including the two religions — Orthodox and Greek Catholic — each contributes in its own way to promoting tourism. "We have revived monastic life this time, by rebuilding in Maramures the old monastery in Peri, village now on Ukraine's territory, a worship place that hundreds of years ago played an essential role in maintaining the Orthodox faith in these places. The monastery was built of wood and has a tower of over 70 meters in height, being one of the highest buildings of its kind in Transylvania, and maybe in Europe, as well. Monastic life was re-brought and the monastery has already entered the circuit of those who visit our village and the Merry Cemetery," said Orthodox priest Vasile Lutai from the village of Sapanta.

Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The fame of Sapanta is however owed to the "Merry Cemetery," with its original works of folk craftsmanship thought and launched in the 1940s by local craftsman Ioan Stan Patras and continued today by his apprentice, Dumitru Pop Tincu. Some wooden crosses were remade at the request of the descendants of the deceased (Gheorghe Stan, the only craftsman who makes crosses in Sapanta), preserving the old epitaphs, but the wood has been replaced with another one with greater weather resistance.

The deep blue colour, combined with other colors, some quite striking, has been preserved, and, along the paths, a few crosses of over 50 years old can also be found, relatively well preserved, whose epitaphs about the deceased are easily readable. Crosses attract viewers' attention by the painted drawings and the poetic text that accompanies, in a few lines, moments from the life of the deceased.

Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Basically, the folk craftsman concentrates, in a few lines, some full of wit, the most surprising aspects from the life of the deceased, but the text of the epitaph transmits much optimism that could be met by the deceased once he or she crossed over. Some examples are more than convincing about the relationship between life and death: "Here I rest / and Ioan Stan is my name / ... I was a pub owner / and I filled beer glasses and goodbye I say to you..." or "The cuckoo sang to me / to die while being a lad / My time on earth / was short-lived / Death took my hastily / When I was enjoying the most / Death, you have an ugly name / Cause you deprived me of the world / Cause you took my life / At age 24."

Or "Dear brother-in-law / I have come next to you / And I have brought my scythe along / To mow grass with it / To feed the horses / Now it is ploughing time. / And let me tell you something: / Ion is a lad now. / He's gone to school / As he wants to be a driver. / I left life/ At age 44."

Ioan Stan Patras Memorial House Museum
Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Interior of the museum
Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The creator of the famous crosses with epitaphs, Ioan Stan Patras, is also buried in the Merry Cemetery, next to his wife. The craftsman's home has become a museum and a workshop for those who carry on the fame strange cemetery.
  
Photo credit: (c) Cristian NISTOR / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The village of Sapanta was visited by the great historian Nicolae Iorga, who, after researching the area, discovered the horse saddle of a Tartar chief, most likely remained there from the Tartars' last invasion in 1717.

In recent years, Irish Peter Hurley has initiated a festival named "The Long Road to the Merry Cemetery," the first Intercultural Festival of Maramures Tradition, combining old Irish music with Transylvanian folk music in a true initiatory pilgrimage that sets off in Bucharest and ends in Sapanta in a grandiose show of lights and music in which the whole village participates and hundreds of tourists are drawn by the unusual musical moment. Two editions of the festival were filmed by the Irish public TV station and broadcast in several European countries.

Photo credit: (c) Paul BUCIUTA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

The "Merry Cemetery" in Sapanta, no matter the season, is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the county along with the "Mocanita" steam train in the Vaser Valley and the small wooden churches that are hundreds of years old.AGERPRES

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