The Merry Cemetery – National Historic Site
The Cemetery was created in 1935 by the local sculptor Stan Ioan Patras. In the cemetery the entire life of the village’s community is represented trough bas-relief carvings painted in bright colors, the over dominating color being the “Sapanata Blue” followed by a short epitaph, written in folk language that shows the life and concerns of the deceased: the farmer, the shepherd, the forester, the logger, the weaving craftswoman, the carpenter, the teacher, the seller, the doctor, the soldier, the drunk, etc., in over 800 wooden crosses.
Sapanta is a small village situated in the northern part of Romania in the region known as Maramures. The 3,500 inhabitants of Sapanta are, like the people of Maramures in general, recognized for their strong character and their ability to combine the traditions of the past with the modernity of the present—this is the key to understanding the phenomenon of their village cemetery. The Merry Cemetery, as it has come to be known, is unique both in Maramures and in Romania
In the mid-1930’s Stan Ioan Patras made a living carving the ubiquitous monumental wooden gates that Maramures farmers take pride in as well as crosses for the cemetery in his village. Little by little, wishing to better serve his clients, he started to paint the crosses in order to protect them from rain and frost, thus making them last longer. Blue was the color that imposed itself from the very beginning. Gradually, the geometric and floral motifs, as well as those of the sun and moon that he had carved on the gates, were incorporated by Patras into the crosses. The colors he chose for these motifs were those he saw around him: on the woven rugs and clothes for which the Sapanta women were reputed, on the local ceramic, or on the icons painted on glass. Thus, the blue background came to alternate with red, yellow, dark green, black and white shapes.
“The first tourist attraction in the beautiful region of Maramures, on the Iza Valley is the Merry Cemetery. This cemetery was created by Stan Ioan Patras, who had sculpted crosses without epitaphs until 1935. However, he started describing briefly the life of the deceased, without providing details on the life of their family members. People speak highly about the dead in all the cemeteries all over the world. However, this is not the case of Sapanta, where the life of the deceased is described just like in reality, on all the 1,000 crosses in the cemetery. The crosses are decorated with images of Christian men or women, heads bowed, praying. They also feature images of the daily routines in Sapanta. The participants in the first symposium of funeral monuments in Pennsylvania, the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta was ranked first in Europe and second in the world, after the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, Luxor, as the most interesting funeral monuments. “