January 16, 2017

On Death And The Merry Cemetery in Transylvania

In Sapanta, Transylvania, Romania, there is a wonderful and unique cemetery known as Cimitrul Vesel (The Merry Cemetery).  This small community is gaining fame.  This is due to the colours on the tombstones, and the element of truth in the epitaphs, this cemetery shows a powerful and unique way of dealing with death.

This gem of a place is mentioned in Atlas Obscura, which has some of the most interesting and, obscure places one can visit.  To say that a cemetery is "merry", is at best ironic, but it is the colourful blue tombstones themselves which add to the bizarre, and, more human element to this area.

It is a small village, and as with many villages the world over, everyone knows something about everyone else.  In this case, there is no need to "hide" from the fact that you died, or even the manner of your death, nor to hide from the fact that you were not perfect in life.

This carving the tombstones for the dead is the labour of love for Stan Ioan Patras, who began his woodworking for the cemetery and even craved his own tombstone.  His apprentice, Dumitru Pop, has carried on his work after Patras' death in 1977.

Death, or how many of the European communities view it, is a passage where it is a sad event.  One does not see this person again.  Either for good or bad.  The Merry Cemetery takes a different point of view for many years.  The older tombstones are less ornate and contain little of what might interest people.

They do contain dates of birth and death and the like, and possibly a kind epitaphs, but the tombstones after the 1930s are different, and unique and give the dead a means of being more alive than simply a memory.  Patras himself made poems or verses on the tombstones, and each had a piece of the person's life- or moments of death- on the head.  It is not a happy place, but it give life to the dead.

Even more important it harkens back to the Dacians who held a view that death was a step to a better life, one which was to be filled with joy and anticipation.  In this, the village has done an amazing job at portraying to people who come and visit.

As a note to tourists, this is a small community, one which is hard to find on a map bigger than Transylvania, so knowing a bit of Romanian will help.  Many recommend that a person has a guide, as to better understand the poems and the people who created them.

January 11, 2017

Maps of Transylvania

Every picture tells a story, and every picture will have a different meaning for each person. When it comes to Transylvania, the pictures are important, and maps tell more of a story. It shows the history of a land and its people. Transylvania is not a country of its own, but as with most areas which have different cultures and history there, it has a story.  Some of those are simple.

A map can show a person "where is Transylvania?" and can give them a sense of where something important is.  It can show details- such as mountains ranges.

It takes time and effort to learn about history with maps, because all too often we don't want to expand on our knowledge or sometimes, we don't want to learn that our former believes were wrong.  It is a challenge to look at an older map and learn, for example, that Bran Castle is closer to south than one might have felt.

Or that there are countless different names for the same city, based upon language. Transylvania  isn't as large of an area as one might think- simply because of other provinces which surround it, but a map can show differences that wouldn't be there before.  It's all about perception and what people take away from each picture- or map.

Even looking at cities can be a challenge- in this older map it shows the Saxon cities of Transylvania, which you'd not find anymore.  They are still there, but all these cities have a Romanian name to them, and not the German they had in this map.  This being said, they always had a Romanian name, but often, the more common was based on the people and culture which had the majority of the population.

Maps are instruments of learning and a means to tell a story.  The more stories, the more people learn.  It is up to the person to gather and decide what is important to them to know about history, culture and peoples of each area.

Each part of Transylvania has had a unique history and this allows it to have a place in the world.  In some cases, this place is a tourist attraction- such as Bran Castle, formerly the home of Queen Marie of Romania, and one which is still privately owned by the Queen's family.  It is a learning experience to see on a map that Bran Castle is close to Brasov and unlike in Dracula, it is not near the city of which Stoker wrote about.

Culture and history do play a role in changes to how people think of a land, or a country (in this case with Transylvania, part of a country.) It also plays an economic role, as the more people learn of an area the more inclined to visit the places the maps show.