Săpânţa, a charming commune in the beautiful county of Maramureș, in northern Romania, attracts a large number of tourists every year, many of them being curious to discover the unique Merry Cemetery. But there are other things to do in Săpânţa and the nearby villages, the area being perfect for travelers who want to experience the Romanian village life.
Discover Săpânţa’s cheerful cemetery
Passing by the Merry Cemetery (Cimitirul Vesel) in Săpânţa, the place might seem rather strange to some: many of the people here are smiling in front of the colorfully painted wooden crosses decorated with epitaphs and illustrations. The Merry Cemetery is not quiet and solemn, but a place that celebrates life, putting smiles on the visitors’ faces.
Săpânţa is located about 20 km west of Sighetu Marmaţiei, in the fascinating county of Maramureș. The village’s graveyard, known as the Merry Cemetery, became famous for its colorful tombstones decorated with witty epitaphs and naive paintings representing scenes from the lives of the people buried there. The tradition began in 1935 at the initiative of local artist Stan Ioan Pătraș, who carved and painted the first crosses. From 1960 onwards, the entire cemetery was gradually filled with hundreds of such crosses, carved in oak, making it the unique site it is today.
Not far from the cemetery, there is the memorial house of Stan Ioan Pătraș, where visitors can learn more about the life and work of the man behind the Merry Cemetery.
Make a stop at Săpânţa-Peri Monastery
Visitors of Săpânţa should also make a stop at the Săpânţa-Peri Monastery, a place of worship representative for the region of Maramureș. The church is said to be the tallest wooden church in the world (78 m).
The current monastery, established in 1997, replaces the old Peri Monastery, destroyed at the beginning of the 18th century. Most of the about 400 cubic meters of wood used for this construction (mainly oak wood) came from local sources.
Alongside the Merry Cemetery, the Săpânţa-Peri Monastery is today one of the area’s main tourist attractions.
Experience the Romanian village life
Browsing through a travel guide of Maramureș, tourists will most likely find the small commune of Săpânţa listed there. This happens, of course, because of the world-famous Merry Cemetery, but the commune is also an ideal destination for travelers who want to discover the Romanian village life, the taste of traditional dishes of Romania and Maramureș, the local traditions, and the amazing rural landscapes.
Here, life seems to slow down, taking tourists back in time. There are horses and carts on the streets bordered by peasant houses, and visitors can take home traditional souvenirs such as folk costumes, embroidered tablecloths, or woven rugs.
Tour the wooden churches of Maramureș
The picturesque region of Maramureș is not only known for its old and impressive customs or traditional villages, but also for the wooden churches that have survived hundreds of years to tell their stories to all visitors.
The UNESCO listed eight of them as World Heritage Sites for their unique architecture and outstanding cultural value. They are “a particular vernacular expression of the cultural landscape of this mountainous area of northern Romania,” according to the description on the UNESCO site. They can be found in villages not far from Săpânţa, such as Bârsana (about 38 km) or Desești (about 41 km).
Sources: Crestinortodox.ro, Wikipedia, Experiencemaramures.com, Whc.unesco.org
(Opening photo: Bizoon/Dreamstime.com)