Inside Romania's Happy Cemetery

Where people are remembered with humour and happy goodbyes.

Sorin Furcoi | | Arts & Culture, Europe, Romania

Sapanta, Romania - Hidden in a small valley of Transylvania's Maramures County, the cemetery in the village of Sapanta has become a landmark in Northern Romania and an important tourist attraction.

Established in the 1930s by Stan Ioan Patras, a local poet, sculptor and painter, the cemetery is not like any other in the world. Patras was a talented artist and locals hired him to carve the oakwood crosses for the graves of loved ones, which he also painted in bright colours on a deep blue background.

At some point he started adding memorable and humorous accounts and limericks from the lives of the deceased on the crosses, or a depiction of the manner in which they had died.

Over a period of 40 years, Patras finished hundreds of such works of art at the "happy cemetery", which helps the community to mourn their dead by celebrating their lives.

Patras died in 1977, but not before he had a chance to carve his own grave-cross with a poem, roughly translated as:

Since I was a small boy,
People called me Stan Ion Patras.
Hear me! O good people,
I wouldn't tell you a lie.
As long as I lived, I wished harm upon no one.
I wished only good,
as much as I could, upon everyone.
Oh this poor old world of mine,
It's been a tough one.

Today, there are more than 800 such crosses in the Sapanta cemetery, with Patras' most talented apprentice, Dumitru Pop Tincu, ensuring the tradition is carried on. 

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