Death isn’t always tragic, at least not in this Romanian cemetery, where the dead beguile visitors with tales of their lives.
The Merry Cemetery in the northwestern village of Sapanta is a collection of more than 1,000 elaborate wooden Orthodox crosses etched with colourful epitaphs and childlike drawings.
There are few secrets in this small community and whatever flaws someone had when they were alive are turned into “grave art” when they die.
This darkly humorous and matter-of-fact approach, rooted in the traditional peasant culture of the region, intrigues visitors.
Despite its remote location some 600 km northwest of the Romanian capital, Bucharest, the cemetery is one of the country’s top tourist attractions.
“I’ve seen what touches [tourists]. This cemetery… is not just a cemetery. People realised that this indeed is a place where you can laugh at death itself,” said sculptor Dumitru Pop Tincu, 62, who crafted many of the crosses. He was speaking in his workshop, dressed in a traditional costume of an embroidered smock, loose trousers and a straw hat.
One recent morning, German tourists were taking in the rows of intricately carved blue, yellow, green and red crosses, looking at the cartoon-like drawings and limericks written in a quirky language used by locals. Some consider the place less a graveyard and more an outdoor museum.
Romanian-born Gerhard Schuster, 63, who lives in Kempten, southern Germany, said: “Ever since I was a child, I heard stories about this. My parents were talking about the Merry Cemetery and I’ve always wanted to come and see it but wasn’t able to until now. ”
One of the drawings features a young man and a subway carriage the man was run over by a train. His epitaph reads: “I enjoyed life so much, I went to western Europe; may it be cursed along with the Paris metro. I used to be a gambler, and I died in 2001 when I was 16 years old.”
Some of the crosses resemble modern-day morality tales.
One epitaph for a truck driver warns the living about the perils of working too hard.