Eighteen kilometres northwest of Sighet, SĂPÂNŢA has achieved widespread fame thanks to the work of the woodcarver Stan Ion Pătraş (1908–77) and his disciples Vasile and Gheorghe Stan Colţun, Viorel and Dumitru “Tincu” Pop, and Toader Turda, in the village’s Merry Cemetery. You can find more of Pătraş’ artistry in his modest wooden cottage some 300m along the dusty road behind the cemetery (it’s signposted). The barn where he worked is adorned with some spectacularly colourful fixtures and fittings, as well as highly unusual wood-carved portraits of the Ceauşescus. Săpânţa is also known for its traditional cergi or woollen blankets, and the village, lined with handicraft stalls, has become accustomed to busloads of tourists making a thirty-minute stop before rushing on.
The Merry Cemetery (Cimitir Vesel) is a forest of beautifully worked, colourfully painted wooden grave markers carved with portraits of the deceased or scenes from their lives, inscribed with witty doggerel (in Romanian) composed by Pătraş as he saw fit. Some are terse – “who sought money to amass, could not Death escape, alas!” – while a surprising number recall violent deaths, like that of the villager killed by a “bloody Hungarian” during World War II, or a mother’s final message to her son: “Griga, may you pardoned be, even though you did stab me”. Pătraş himself is buried right in front of the church door, his carved portrait flanked by two white doves (“Ever since a lad I was, I have been Stan Ion Pătraş…”).