One of the oldest towns in Lithuania, Kèdainiai is a photogenic Baroque relic of times gone by on the banks of the River Nevėžis. First mentioned in 1372, it may have been founded as a fishing village but grew quickly thanks to its position as the seat of the powerful Protestant Radziwiłł family. Kèdainiai soon became the cosmopolitan, tolerant home of Protestant refugees from all over Europe, an important trading center and the home of much-revered Lithuanian Jewish intellectual Vilna Gaon in the late 1720s. The town remained a successful melting pot until World War II, when the German army assassinated the town’s Jewish community on Aug. 28, 1941. Today Kèdainiai’s charmless 21st-century outskirts hide the best-preserved medieval center of any town in Lithuania, packed with multi-colored gabled Baroque townhouses, Protestant and Orthodox churches and synagogues, all built around a maze of market squares.
The Kèdainiai Regional Museum incorporates three branches: the mausoleum of the Radziwiłł family, a museum of sculptures created by wood carver Vytautas Ulevičius and, in a gesture to the town’s polyglot past, a multi-cultural center housed in a former synagogue. A thought-provoking sculpture entitled The Eye of God stands outside to commemorate the massacre of Kèdainiai’s Jews in 1941, and a metal memorial at the mass grave records the names of those buried there.
Kèdainiai is located 50 miles (80 km) north of Kaunas. The Kèdainiai Regional Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission costs 4LTL.