Gypsies defend ‘over the top’ grave decorations

Gypsies defend 'over the top' grave decorations
“There will be a gypsy uprising if we don’t reach an agreement.” Photo: Antonio Tajuelo
Gypsies in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza are up in arms about a town hall ruling which puts a limit on the amount of ornamentation they can place on their loved ones' graves.

Zaragoza's town hall has sent out a letter to several local gitano, or gypsy, families asking them not to cover their relatives' graves in Torrero cemetery with excessive decorations that surpass the limits of each individual plot of land.

The decision follows complaints on the part of non-gypsy families who have grown tired of the hundreds of flowers and ornaments taking over the graveyard.

But local gypsy groups say the way they honour the dead, which usually involves hours of mourning, is an ancient tradition that can’t be changed.

Spain's gitanos are believed to have originally arrived in the country in the 15th century. Although initially well received, gypsies in Spain have often been subject to persecution in the following centuries. 

"We have always mourned our dead like this," Pilar Clavería, president of the Federation of Gypsy Associations of Aragon (FAGA) told local daily Heraldo.

"If they didn't want us to decorate the tombstones they should have told us from the start," she added.

Aragon’s urban planning council has also received complaints from Torrero cemetery’s workers, who claim their job has been made harder by the wrongful appropriation of land.

"It’s not only the ornaments," say sources from Zaragoza's urban planning department.

"A lot of the time they scatter pieces of the tombstone around the graveyard, preventing machines used to remove old graves from operating properly."

Some gypsy families have even created small garden mausoleums without permission from the town hall or Torrejon cemetery's directors.

The families have been given 20 days to remove all excessive ornamentation and use of land or they will have to pay a €500 fine.

“We don’t want to offend anyone over such a delicate matter,” Zaragoza's town hall told Heraldo.

“All we are trying to achieve is that public space laws are respected.”

But FAGA's president has already warned what the repercussions of those financial penalties will be.

“There will be a gypsy uprising if we don’t reach an agreement.”

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