Colourful carved graves at the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta.

©Matt Munro/Lonely Planet

Merry Cemetery

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Săpânţa village boasts the unique 'Merry Cemetery', famous for the colourfully painted wooden crosses that adorn the tombstones in the village's graveyard. Shown in art exhibitions across Europe, the crosses attract coachloads of visitors who marvel at the gentle humour of the epitaphs and the human warmth that created them.

The man behind the Merry Cemetery was Ioan Stan Pătraş, a simple woodcarver who, in 1935, started carving crosses to mark graves in the old church cemetery. He painted each cross in blue – the traditional colour of hope and freedom – and on top of each he inscribed a witty epitaph to the deceased. Every cross tells a different story, and the painted pictures and inscriptions illustrate a wealth of traditional occupations: shepherds tending their sheep, mothers cooking for their families, barbers cutting hair and weavers working at their looms. There are upwards of 800 people buried here.

Pătraş carved and painted his own cross, complete with a portrait of himself; it is directly opposite the main entrance to the church, which has now been enlarged and renovated. Since Pătraş’ death in 1977 his apprentice Dumitru 'Tincu' Pop, as well as a number of other craftsmen, work in Pătraş’ former house and studio, now a fascinating little museum, the Ioan Stan Pătraş Memorial House. It's about 400m down the road to the right of the cemetery's main entrance.