Nested among high peaks and green valleys in Northern Romania, near the Ukrainian border, lies the tiny village of Săpânța
It’s an ordinary village, close to the river, with the main road passing through. Like every ordinary village, also Săpânța has a cemetery.
The European Spoon River
But it’s not an ordinary one. Think of it as the European Spoon River.
In Săpânța the whole scene looks much different than a usual cemetery. Under wooden crosses painted in a characteristic bright blue, the departed past life is engraved with a humorous epitaph, a brief but poetically sincere story of the villager lying below, pointing out especially on his/her character flaws or dirty secrets.
This original graveyard sprung off just before the blasting of WWII, when a local carpenter, Stan Ioan Patras, started building those colourful and humorous tombstones.
At the times, the funerals lasted three days. All the villagers would gather and tell stories about the deceased. From these stories, Patras took inspiration for the epitaphs.
UNESCO World Heritage Protected Site
Slowly the fame of the merry cemetery transcended the boundaries of Maramures, the region it belongs to. Today the area belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Protected Sites.
Stan Ioan Patras continued to work on his creations for 40 years and more than 800 tombstones and limericks, until his death, in 1977.
He even wrote his own epitaph.
Like any other master or innovator, Mr Patras had a disciple. Dimitru Pop continued this tradition in painting and engraving tombstones for the deceased of the village.
This way, the graveyard has become the tale of its own inhabitants. There is probably more history among those tombstones than in many little regional museums.
That’s the European Spoon River. A place where you have under your eyes – with poetry and tenderness – the life of a rural small town of Central Europe.
But there is a great difference! The Spoon River Anthology is poetic fiction, the result of Edgar Lee Masters imagination, while the Merry Cemetery of Săpânța is real. What you find there is the poetry of real life.
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