Happy cemetery of Săpânţa, Romania

The Merry Cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania, is unique in the world for its colourfully painted wooden crosses and humorous, mocking obituaries.

The Happy Cemetery is located in the village of Săpânţa in the northwest of Romania in the region of Maramureș. The Merry Cemetery ("Cimitirul Vesel") has its unusual name due to its artistically designed, colourful crosses, which are also provided with an ironic obituary of the respective deceased.


PICTURES: Happy cemetery of Săpânța

Photo gallery: Happy cemetery of Săpânţa

The people of Săpânţa celebrate death. When a villager passes away, the entire village community dresses in black and visits him in his house to pay their last respects. After three days of mourning, he is led to his final resting place in a solemn march with an open coffin. But then the mourning is over again, because in Săpânţa there is the only cemetery where the dead are commemorated.

The Merry Cemetery now houses around 800 blue-painted crosses, all protected by a small pointed roof. On these crosses, the life of the buried is depicted in a humorous way, both in masterfully crafted pictures and in carved texts. Even if you don't speak Romanian, just looking at the detailed pictures is an absolute highlight.

The artists at the Happy Cemetery

Tomb of artist Stan Ioan Pătraş, who in 1932 created the first artistic epitaph at the Happy Cemetery of Săpânţa for a relative, Romania - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

Until 1977, the local artist Stan Ioan Pătraş, who created the first artistic epitaph for a relative in 1932, was responsible for the elaborate crosses. The custom found favour, and everyone in Săpânţa wanted a colourful cross and a carved obituary for their deceased relatives.

On his own cross, which he still made himself, is written in excerpts: "Since the age of 14, I have had to earn money. From 62 countries they have visited me until yesterday, but whoever comes now will no longer find me." His successor is Dumitru Pop, who also likes to invite visitors to his modest home once in a while.

The wood artist's wooden hut looks just as fantastic as the cemetery. Almost every square inch is decorated with carvings. Probably the most famous portrait works on the walls show the Romanian ex-dictator Ceausescu and his wife as well as the entire staff of the former Central Committee of the Romanian Socialist Party.

Colourful crosses exported all over the world

The Happy Cemetery of Săpânţa in Romania is home to about 800 blue-painted crosses, all protected by a small pointed roof - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

Pop can now make a good living from this business. At several hundred euros, a cross costs a few months' salary for a common man, which means that many residents cannot afford this noble death. Pop has also exported to the USA, Germany, Austria, England and Italy. Orders should be sent to Dumitru Pop, Săpânţa, Romania.


In the meantime, the Merry Cemetery has become a popular tourist attraction. The Merry Cemetery offers a very unusual sight, because everywhere else in the world the subject of death is treated with great respect and seriousness. But not in Săpânţa. There, a dead man's reputation, earned in life, hovers over him for many years to come.

In the form of carved texts, the life of the buried is humorously depicted at the Merry Cemetery of Săpânţa, Romania - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

Funny anecdotes from the Happy Cemetery in Săpânţa

Memorial to the living:
"Schnapps is a snake that brings us sorrow and toil. To whom the liquor tastes good, it will fare as it did to me."

From the time of the Hungarian occupation:
"I have lived 58 years. Woe is me, I have died badly. Saulic Ion my name. I was grazing my sheep in the garden in Belmezáu when a bad Hungarian approached. He shot me in the head, separated my head from my body, and thus brought me to my grave. May he be cursed forever!"


Arrogant self-absorption:
"As long as I have lived in the world, I have liked too many things. I have lived well because of a beautiful man beside me. Dear man, you should go on living well, because of me you will be jealous anyway as long as you live. You won't find another one like me."

Political criticism:
"As long as we were in the world, we planted beautiful fruit trees. The old woman always spun the thread and I harvested apples. I harvested a lot, but we didn't eat many apples because we had to deliver them to the LPG."


Each of the masterful crosses at the Merry Cemetery of Săpânţa is one hundred percent handmade and absolutely unique, Romania - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

Church of Săpânța

Anyone visiting the cheerful cemetery of Săpânţa should definitely also take a look at the church belonging to it. This is missed by many visitors because of the prominence of the cemetery with its colourful crosses. What is striking is that the church - in contrast to many Orthodox churches in Romania - is very spacious and also very bright.

The highlight of the church are the extremely well preserved wall and ceiling paintings. All the details of the paintings can be clearly seen through the large windows that flood the church with light. The church is still in use and is thus an important part of life in the village of Săpânţa.

PICTURES: Church of Săpânța

Photo gallery: Church of Săpânţa

Tip: The monastery of the Archangel Michael is also in Sapanta. Its monastery church is one of the famous wooden churches of Maramures and is made entirely of oak. It owes the title of the highest oak building in the world to its 78m high spire.

Tragedy next to gaiety

Next to the humorous, mocking crosses of the Happy Cemetery in Săpânţa, hidden behind a high hedge from the main road, lies a second, much more serious cemetery.

Here, countless half-weathered gravestones stand for the Jewish inhabitants of Săpânţa who were deported to the concentration camps by the National Socialists in 1944 and never returned. The few "Spinka" Jews ("Spinka" is Yiddish for "Săpânţa") who did return fled on to Israel or the USA, and so half of Sapanta was wiped out.