Visit Kedainiai, a crossroads of cultures in the middle of Lithuania

  • 2024-05-27

Kedainiai stands out as one of Central Lithuania's most captivating and historically significant sites, with richest historical heritage in Central Lithuania, offering visitors unique culinary and cultural experiences, constantly changing and growing. With offerings tailored to diverse interests, there is something for everyone: those interested in the sacred can visit former monasteries, houses of worship of various denominations, and collections of liturgical utensils in Dotnuva and Paberze. The Camino Lituano pilgrimage route crosses the Kedainiai district. 

 It is not just a pilgrimage route, it is a cultural walking route with many interesting cultural stops. Visitors can leisurely explore the Old Town, soaking in its historic charm, or take part in activities such as sightseeing programmes or excursions, or take a ride on a Vytine ship (river-borne sailboat), which is about to enter its sixth season. Those who prefer to save the family budget and leave their wallet at home will find plenty of free activities. Especially this year, on the last Sunday of the month, you can leave your wallet at home when you go to Kedainiai: the Kedainiai Regional Museum and its branches in the Dukes Radvila Mausoleum, the Multicultural Centre and the 1863 Uprising Museum in Paberze are free of charge on the last Sunday. Those looking for mystical experiences can visit the mysterious cellars of the old Kedainiai or places connected with mystical, horrific events and legends. Legends say that there are underground tunnels beneath Kedainiai, which allow you to pass from one bank of the Nevezis River to the other. Although historians claim that these are just former cellars of houses, they say that the legends cannot be written off, as they often contain a grain of truth. 

Those who are not indifferent to art, should visit Janina Monkute-Marks Museum-Gallery and Vytautas Ulevicius Museum of Wood Sculptures, which are both free of charge. The museum and its branches regularly host contemporary art exhibitions. Those who love literature can take a literary journey through the region. Those who like to spend time in nature should visit the Skinderiskis Dendrological Park, a unique corner of nature. Magnolias are already finishing their season, but other plants are also in bloom and the cucumber magnolia is about to burst into flower. Gourmets and collectors of flavours and those who want to get to know the region through its tastes will find shops with traditional and innovative products from our region, dishes from our culinary heritage in cafés, restaurants and tasting groups (our region's typical dumplings, tastings at the "Ragane", Scottish haggis, Radvila’s stew and cucumber ice-cream at "Gray’s house", tastings of Jewish, Samogitian and Radvilas dishes at the restaurant "Smilga", mead tastings at the agritourism homestead "Susve" (cucumber mead), "Kedainiai pancakes" (deliciously made by the Bennett’s Tavern (Lith. Beneto karcema) established in the house of the most famous Scotsman from Kedainiai, George Bennett (Lith. Jurgis Benetas), which dates back to the XVII century). You can taste, learn many interesting things and at the same time have fun at the educational programmes 'The road to the daughter-in-law: spun, woven, dreamt', '150 years in the Jewish neighbourhood'. 

Kedainiai is a crossroads of cultures, with Jewish, Scottish and German heritage, Polish, Russian, Dutch and Swedish signs in the old town. For the benefit of the town, the Radvila dukes invited foreign merchants and craftsmen to settle in the 17th century. They built Kedainiai and their lives here. Today, the ornate merchants' brick houses preserve many interesting stories. The list of activities presenting the multicultural heritage was expanded by the new theatrical culinary experience programme "ARBATirtys", which playfully tells the story of tea and the discovery of English afternoon tea. 

The cultural summer ahead is full of events: the popular "Pentecost in Paberzė" with a folklore festival and traditional feast on 19 May, the song and dance festival on 8 June, one of Lithuania's oldest gastronomic festivals, the Cucumber Festival on 13 July, the town festival and the cultural-historical festival "Radviliada" on 6-8 September

There are interesting historical relics not only in the Old Town, but also in the district: twelve castle mounds (the most expressive is Bakainiai), dozens of fragments of manor houses, one after another falling into good hands and slowly rising. Kedainiai is a place of cultural and sightseeing tourism, which awaits curious visitors who want to get to know this region and, at the same time, the history of Lithuania!

1. Arnett’s House (Arnetų namas). One of the Scottish merchants' houses with its own stories. Not only the streets and squares of the Old Town have names, but also some of the houses, one of which is the house of the Scottish merchant Arnett. It was built in the 17th century and later changed its Renaissance dress. The ground floor was used as a shop, the cellars were used for storing goods, and the first floor as living quarters. It was the residence of the Reformed superintendents. Today it is the home of the Traditional Crafts Centre, a department of the Kedainiai Regional Museum.

2. Evangelical Reformed Church and the mausoleum of the dukes Radvilas. The biggest attraction of the Old Town, founded by the Dukes Radvila, built in the middle of the 17th century, in the Renaissance style, has remained little changed. Inside, the Dutch Mannerist decorations, such as the oak panels and the pulpit, have been preserved. The largest surviving Protestant church in Lithuania and Poland. Used as a warehouse during the Soviet period, later as a sports hall. Nowadays it is visited by many tourists. The Church also functions as a house of prayer, concerts take place, Mausoleum of the Dukes of Radvila contains six Renaissance and Baroque sarcophagi of members of the Dukes of Radvila family, buried here in the second half of the 17th century, not in all of the sarcophagi the remains have survived. 

3. Janina Monkute-Marks Museum-Gallery is one of the free attractions. The museum-gallery was founded by the expatriate artist Janina Monkute-Marks in 2001 (she studied in Kedainiai in 1939-1941). It has a wonderful permanent exhibition of the founder's own works, and the museum organizes exhibitions of Lithuanian and foreign artists. Until 2000 it was the home of the Kedainiai Regional Museum, now the gallery is a department of the museum.

4. Park, minaret. City Park: the third manor house. When the Swedes destroyed the Palace of the Dukes of Radvila, a new, third manor house was established on this spot. The park was created, the palace was built and reconstructed by the owner of the estate, General Eduard Totleben. Unfortunately, the palace was destroyed during the Second World War. However, the park itself, the gates, parts of the cellars, the minaret, which is 25 metres high and has 78 steps, have survived. The parterre with the rose garden has been restored, and there are children's playgrounds and event spaces. The minaret is shrouded in legends and different versions of legends. One legend has it that Eduard Totleben built the minaret for his Muslim sweetheart, whom he brought back from the wars with the Turks. This is unlikely to be true, as Totleben was known as an honourable man, a Christian, an exemplary husband and father. Only the sentiment towards the Balkans was strong.

Older residents of Kedainiai say that this secluded part of the park used to be a favourite date spot. Exotic, romantic buildings were typical of the parks. There was also a mosque and an aivan, which housed a museum of sorts, where Totleben kept objects that glorified his past, including a wine glass broken in a fight with the Russian Emperor Alexander II, a fine knife given to him by the Empress Alexandra, and golden nominal weapons.... The foundations of these buildings are all that remain, and the images are only in photographs. At the top of the minaret is a graceful balcony with floral ornaments. There are plans to open the minaret to tourist groups. And water bikes will soon be available in the park's pond.

5. Geographical centre of Lithuania. In the Kedainiai district, about 6 km from Kedainiai, there is a special place, the geographic centre of Lithuania. It was established in 1995 by the Lithuanian Land Management Institute. Later, in 2007, it was refined and the point is located a little further north, in the fields. The stones, symbolising Samogitia and Aukstaitija, were erected according to a design by architect Vytautas Kundrotas. A wayside shrine was commissioned by the Rotary Club, the place was planted and paved. Lithuanian Stonehenge: in 2021 sacred composition "The Flower of Love and Peace", created in accordance with the old traditions of sacred buildings, in which sacred geometry is combined with all the necessary requirements for them. It was built by people who are aware of these traditions, who are sociable and do not seek their own benefit, who are guided by idealistic motives, and who use their material resources for their chosen cause.

6. Seteniai. On 30 June 1911, the Nobel Prize-winning poet, writer, essayist and poet Ceslovas Milosas was born and spent his childhood in Seteniai. He made the world of his childhood - the beauty of nature, cosiness, the way of people, myths, legends, colors, scents, flora and fauna - famous in his novel 'Issa valley'. He named the Nevezis river Isa. The novel was published in Paris in 1955. Seteniai Manor was founded in the 18th century and it flourished in the 19th century. Miloš wrote: "I have been given a paradise on earth as a gift..." He wrote of the Issa (Nevezis) Valley: "The Isa Valley is special because there are many devils here, more than anywhere else. ... maybe the devils liked the Issa because of its water? It is said that it can influence the way of people born near Issa. They tend to extremes, are irrepressible." In spring, the Nevezis valley turns yellow – the flowers described in "The Valley of Issa" i.e. the keys of St. Peter's – the primroses bloom (In Lithuanian primroses are called the herbs of keys). Now is the time. The linden avenue is preserved. Nowadays, Seteniai is home to the Vytautas Magnus University Conference Centre, there is an exposition dedicated to C. Milos, Seteniai can be visited.

7.  Sventybrastis. The name is associated with a sacred pagan alkas (sacred place) and a tributary of the Nevezis River, the Brasta Stream. According to legend, a sacred fire smoldered on the site of the present Church of the Transfiguration of Christ. The present church was built in 1774 by Ignas Zavisa. Later, the chapel and sacristy were added, and later the bell tower. The rebels who died in the Daniliskis battle between the rebels and the Tsar's army are buried in the churchyard. A monument was erected in 1938 on the initiative of the priest Vincentas Svambaris and the local teacher Bronius Kubilius. It was still standing during the Soviet era, with an inscription saying that the rebels died at the "cruel hand of the Tsar". A monument was erected in 1937 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Lithuania's independence. The Soviet authorities blew it up in 1949, and the remains were buried on the banks of the Nevezys. It was rebuilt in 1989 by local people. The Upyte Merchants' Road, mentioned in the 15th-century, stretches along the site. One of the events which took place here inspired C. Milosas to create one of the characters – Magdalena in the novel “Isa valley”. After her death, the inhabitants of the area started seeing her apparition, and then the men dug up her abandoned body, cut off her head, laid it at her feet, and the apparition stopped. Ceslovas Milosas's grandparents, Zigmantas Kunatas and Juzefa Sirutyte, were married in the church in 1885, his mother was baptised two years later, and in 1911 the future poet himself. The oak trees on the hillside grow as natural monuments. Milos's grandfather Zigmantas Kunatas, great-grandfather Simonas Sirutis and his first and second wives are buried there. It is now a small village and the area has been declared a municipal historical landscape reserve.

Dotnuva, Academy

Town Hall Square. Kedainiai was a Magdeburgian city, planned and structured in the manner of self-governing towns. The square is the venue for events and the main Christmas tree is always there. The Nevezis River marked the border between Samogitia and Aukstaitija. The Dutch-style 17th century glass artisans’ house speaks of the links with Holland and the architectural fashions imported from there. 

Illustrious Gymnasium. The courtyard is reminiscent of the universities of Vilnius and Krakow. It is one of the oldest school buildings in Lithuania, with a gymnasium dating back to the mid-17th century. The name 'Gymnasium Illustre' is based on the German and Dutch examples. The path of the young Reformed offspring passed through the doors of this gymnasium. 

Bakainiai Mound. An archaeological monument, there are twelve mounds in the Kedainiai district, this one is the most expressive and is situated in the territory of the Krekenava Regional Park. The Liaude River, a tributary of the Nevezis River, winds its way through the area, giving the name "Liauda" to the region. Ceslovas Milosas wrote about the nobility of Liauda. Pilgrims on the Camino Lituano crossing the Liaude river. The location “Lauden” is mentioned in the Livonian Chronicle of 1372. 

Museum of the 1863 Uprising and the Paberze Sacred Heritage Complex. Paberze is the starting point of the 32 km section of the Camino Lituano, Paberze-Kedainiai. The 1863 Uprising Museum is housed in an 18th-century wooden manor house. In 1855, a young priest, Antanas Mackevicius, one of the leaders of the 1863 Uprising, was assigned to Paberze. After publishing the manifesto of the uprising, he led a group of men. You will see the "items preserved": antiquities, liturgical vestments, prayer books and other items collected and loved by Father Stanislovas.