The elaborate mausoleums, resembling small bungalows, are fully furnished with tables, a couple of chairs, pictures of the family hanging from walls, and flower pots both inside and on the porch. Some even have electric power inside.
The strange custom of building houses instead of tombstones began in the late 1960s when a laborer, who had made a fortune working overseas, returned home and decided to build a magnificent mausoleum for himself. Others thought it was a good idea to show off one’s wealth. Now there are more houses than tombstones in the cemetery.
The phenomenon is not unique to Smoljinac. Many villages in eastern Serbia bury their dead and build little houses over them, filed with pictures and other memorabilia. The cost of building such a structure is 4,000 euros on average, almost always paid by remittances sent from abroad.
Over a million Serbs are currently living and working abroad. In 2015, remittances to the Balkan country amounted to 9.2 percent of national output.
The practice of building grand houses have declined since the global recession, but the gravehouses are still being built.
Having a house instead of a tombstone is not a bad idea though, says one resident. "We need a roof above our heads to sit down and have a coffee when we visit our dead."