Kedainiai. The name sounds as pretty as the town looks. Consider using Kedainiai as a part of a day trip from Vilnius or incorporating it into your greater exploration of Lithuania as a whole. With its colorful 17th-century old town, historic mixture of cultures and religions, an annual cucumber festival, and a riverside location, you’re sure to fall under its spell.
A quick stroll around this Lithuanian city will give you an idea about its interesting past: an imposing Evangelical church looms over the main square, while deeper into old town you’ll find synagogues, a smaller wooden church, an Orthodox church, and even a minaret, though the latter is not so much a religious object as it is a monument to masculine pride.
Six Nations, Six Confessions
Kedainiai is known as the town of six nations and six confessions due to the mixture of ethnicities and faiths that settled here.
- The first group are Poles—after all, Lithuania and Poland have never been able to get far from each other due to geography and the history of shifting borders, and many people of both nations associate themselves with Catholicism.
- The second group are Russians, whose origins in the town stem from local nobility marrying into a Russian family and establishing the Orthodox church there, which was revived when Lithuania became a part of the Russian empire.
- Germans also played a part in Kedainiai’s history, arriving first as merchants and then setting up shop as doctors and pharmacists; their faith is represented by the Lutheran church.
- Jewish presence in Kedainiai dates back to the early 17th century, when they were given permission to move there, and three synagogues are extant in the town—more about the Jewish history of Kedainiai below.
- Like the Jewish population, the Scottish population that settled in Kedainiai arrived at the start of the 17th century, and they were associated with the Evangelical church.
- The sixth group are Lithuanians who adhered to the Evangelical Reformed Church.
The minaret found in the city park is not associated with religion: a Russian general erected it to commemorate his own military service.
The Birthplace of Ceslov Milosz
Ceslovas Milosas, or Czeslaw Milosz (Czesław Miłosz) in Polish, a Nobel Prize-winning author. Milosz was born in the Lithuanian territory of the Russian Empire into a Polish family in the nearby village of Seteniai in 1911. Both Poles and Lithuanians claim him as their own.
A conference center dedicated to Milosz is situated in the village and it celebrates the writer with a festival. Some buildings from Milosz’s time still stand there, and he mentions Kedainiai in his books. A main street in Kedainiai is named after him.
The Jewish History of Kedainiai
Jewish settlement in Kedainiai dates back to the 17th century, when the Old Market area of the town became a center for the Jewish population (you can still see some Jewish landmarks, including synagogues, there). In the late 1800s, a significant percentage of Kedainiai’s population was Jewish. While the percentage of Jewish inhabitants became gradually less relative to the total population of the town, it remained significant until WWII. In 1941, the Jews of Kedainiai and nearby villages were taken to the village of Dauksiai and murdered.
Things to Do in Kedainiai
A walk around the old town will enable you to see many centrally located sights. Many buildings have plaques on them that detail their importance in both Lithuanian and English, so if something catches your fancy, you’ll likely be able to learn more about it on the spot. But do explore further afield to get the best overview of Kedainiai and the surrounding area.
The Main Square
You’ll see the Reformed Evangelical Church peeking from behind some newer houses as well as some colorful houses typical to European old towns. One of the town halls with a monument to a member of the Radvila family is also situated on this square.
Due to its eclectic mixture of people, Kedainiai has several churches. There’s the large Reformed Evangelical church, the wooden St. Joseph’s Carmelite church, the Catholic St. George’s Church (one of the oldest churches in Lithuania), and the Orthodox Holy Transfiguration Church.
The Kedainiai Regional Museum is 100 years old, and its branches include other places of importance in Kedainiai, including the Reformed Evangelical Church (which includes the mausoleum of the Radvilas dukes), a crafts center, and the Multicultural Center in the former Winter Synagogue.
Head to the Old Market Square to see two synagogues nestled next to each other; across from them is a memorial to Jewish victims. You can also stroll down “Zydu g.”—Zydas being the Lithuanian word for “Jew.” Kedainiai also retains buildings that acted as a former school for rabbis, a Jewish orphanage, a printing house, and a pharmacy. You can also visit the Jewish cemetery. In Dauksiai, there is also a memorial to victims of the mass murder that took place in 1941 in this village.
Other points of interest
The minaret is located in Kedainiai Manor Park outside of the old town. You can also see an ancient oak, participate in a Jewish food or dumpling degustation, visit the geographical center of Lithuania, see a variety of manor houses, climb onto ancient hillforts, or take a hike in nearby parks.
Lithuanians love their locally grown cucumbers—they’re a major ingredient in Lithuanian food! And in Kedainiai in July, the Cucumber Festival celebrates this refreshing green vegetable. You’ll be able to sample and buy all kinds of imaginative cucumber products, such a pickled cucumbers, cucumber condiments, and cucumber desserts. Knock back a cucumber cocktail or refresh your skin with a cucumber mask. You’ll be surprised and delighted how the Cucumber Festival demonstrates the versatile ways cucumbers can be used.
How to Get to Kedainiai
By car, you’ll need about an hour and forty minutes to reach Kedainiai from Vilnius. Take the A1 west and then the Route 229 exit north.
Bus rides are a bit longer at about an hour and a half. Buses are not frequent, and you will have to stop/change at Kaunas, so it will be important to plan ahead if you expect to take this public transportation option.
Train is also a good option. The train from Vilnius to Kedainiai runs three times a day. At 1.5 hours, it’s also a faster mode of transport than bus.