True Lithuania

Kėdainiai Town

Kėdainiai (population 32 000) is a town near the center of Lithuania well known for its brick old town. With most Lithuanian old towns being wooden and therefore less intact, the lovely small medieval district of Kėdainiai is unusual. The well-cared clean streets run towards numerous squares where markets used to take place. Kėdainiai was especially important for medieval trade.

The main square is "Great Market" (Didžioji Rinka) opens to Nevėžis river at one side. On the opposite side there stands a former city hall with a tall roof.

Main Market of Kėdainiai (City Hall on the left). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In times when Lithuania was virtually ruled by several important families, Kėdainiai was the seat of Radvila family. This branch of the famous family adopted a Reformed faith and therefore the Kėdainiai main square is dwarfed by a Renaissance Reformed Christian church (1652) rather than a Catholic one. The Reformed community has since dwindled and the church has one monthly mass, but the sarcophagi of underground Radvila family crypt with long epitaphs still attracts tourists. Outside summer one needs to ask at Kėdainiai museum to have the Reformed church opened.

On the opposite side of Radvilų street stands a 17th century Arnett House, built by a Scottish merchant family. Kėdainiai once had a thriving Scottish community, attracted by a common Reformed faith.

A view of Senoji Street in Kėdainiai Old Town. A massive belfry of the Reformed Christian church is visible.©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Catholics have a black wooden church of Saint Joseph not far away (Radvilų street). It is famous for being one of the oldest and largest wooden churches in Lithuania, having been built in 1766. The entire interior is wooden, including three 18th century baroque altars.

Gothic St. George Catholic church on the opposite side of Nevėžis river is even older (1662).

Other religious communities set their footprint in Kėdainiai as well. Lutheran church has been constructed by German traders in 1629 and its famous for interior decorations. Russian Orthodox church dates to the Russian Imperial rule (1861). Two white synagogues (summer and winter, 18th-19th centuries) at Senoji Rinka (Old Market) have been restored as a Jewish museum. A third synagogue stands in Smilgos street.

There aren't that many towns of this size in the world where houses of worship of 5 different faiths would stand, each of them at least 150 years old. However that old tolerance was replaced by destructive Russian and Soviet occupations of 19th-20th century when most religious buildings were looted and closed (and some destroyed), and only after 1990 was the religious life reborn, but minority faiths remained small in numbers of followers.

St. Joseph wooden Catholic church of Kėdainiai. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Pediastrianised Didžioji street is the pretty main axis of Kėdainiai Old Town. Its cute old homes house several hotels and restaurants. The former Carmelite monastery now serves as Kėdainiai museum. It has a nice collection of Lithuanian wayside crosses, as well as some modern art by local artists, historical exhibits and furniture/clothing from regional manors (furniture made of horns brought back from 1900 Paris Expo by the local nobles is interesting, even if not local). Šviesioji Gimnazija (school), established by Radvilas in 1625, is another historic institution. A two-floored townhouse at Didžioji street's eastern end has been transformed into an art project where every window reminds an episode of rich town history.

Being a hometown of Radvilas Kėdainiai also enjoyed political importance. Union of Kėdainiai was signed here, terminating the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and establishing a Swedish-Lithuanian one instead. However the Swedes subsequently lost the 1655-1660 war, leading to the restoration of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Unfortunately, neither the magnificient Radvila palace, nor the later manor built by romanticist painter Czapski. The ruins of Czapski manor and the exotic Turkish-inspired minaret built as an observation tower in his park are beyond the train station rails.

English map of Kėdainiai.

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