If you didn’t know it was there, you’d never find it.
The old dirt path that crosses the railway tracks leads only to a blue tourist sign that says “50m” and points left towards what seem to be just a load of trees. There are no other clues that anything is here.
Passengers stand on the platform at Kedainiai train station oblivious to it; the overgrown woodland, neglected for decades, blocking their view.
“It was built by a general as a mosque for his beloved wife. She was Muslim and he wanted her to have somewhere to pray, so he built this with a mosque underneath for her to pray in,” explained Edward Shevchenko, holding the hand of his own wife, Victoria.
They had both looked as surprised to see me as I had been to find them behind the dense thicket. We now stood together staring at the beautiful white, pencil-like minaret, topped with a reddish cone. Around the foot were the remains of a structure; a pointless doorway; a small exposed stairwell and two sets of Arabic inscriptions.
I had come in search of Kedainiai minaret’s romantic story, but in Edward, who had grown up in the town, I had stumbled upon an even more beautiful one. This was his first day back after a 30 year absence.
“In my memories everybody called it ‘Turkish Tower’. People in my childhood said it was built by the owner of the land around it, a Baltic German military engineer called Eduard Totleben who was in military service as the Russian Imperial Army General.
The Crimean War was fought between Russia and the fading Ottoman Empire and its allies. Ironically, Totleben’s wife had been Turkish and the minaret, clearly Ottoman in style.
During Edward’s childhood, it’s purpose had been forgotten but he and his friends had found other uses for it.
“The minaret was in a very bad condition when we were children. The door was always open and we often raced up the stairs to the balcony.
“In the 1970s there were also two small houses near the minaret and I remember that people lived there with a small farm. Now only the stone basements (foundations) are in this place.
“I lived in Kedainiai for 19 years. I was brought there by my parents at nine months old. Our story is a very typical story for Kedainiai because this was a place with several Soviet military units and my father was a military pilot … I am so happy to visit my second and ‘real’ Motherland after 30 years. Believe me it is so emotional …”
Edward paused. We were standing on a little bridge now, a little way from the minaret. There was a lovely silence in the air, broken only by the gentle sound of the stream beneath our feet.
“There have been many tears,” said Victoria softly as she squeezed her husbands hand.
“The tears came because I have seen again, all these places which all are in my memory and appear to me in my dreams so many times.
“Feelings have flooded back to me of being 19 again. I have opened these old pages to myself and the pictures in this book of my life are still full of colours … It is hard to explain how deep they penetrate my heart.”
Edward later emailed me to tell me he had found other versions of how the minaret came about but we both agreed we didn’t like them as much as this one. “To be honest”, he had wrote, “the first one is so romantic!”