Corfu Museums: Achilleion Palace
Visit Achilleion Palace, one of the most known monuments in corfu
The Achilleion Palace can be found in the Village of Gastouri, 10 km’s south west of the town of Corfu.The Achilleion Palace built in Gastouri, Corfu by Empress (German: Kaiserin) of Austria Elisabeth of Bavaria, also known as Sisi, after a suggestion by Austrian Consul Alexander von Warsberg. Elisabeth was a woman obsessed with beauty, and very powerful, but tragically vulnerable since the loss of her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria in the Mayerling Incident in 1889. A year later in 1890, she built a summer palace in the region of Gastouri, now the municipality of Achilleion, about ten kilometres to the south of the city of Corfu. The Achilleion Palace was designed with the mythical hero Achilles as its central theme.
Tragically, during an overnight stay in Geneva, 1898, she was accosted by an Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni, who had come to Geneva with the intention of assassinating the Prince of Orleans.When the Prince failed to arrive, Luchini chose her as his victim, in spite of knowing, nor caring that she shared his opinions on aristocracy. He stabbed her with a sharp file puncturing a tiny hole in her heart that went un-noticed until she later fainted from loss of blood. By then, it was too late for the doctors to save her life. Luchini was sentenced to life in prison but hanged himself in 1910.
William II purchased it after her untimely death. William II, however, never had a chance to enjoy the palace’s beauty because of a war that broke out, from his own doing.
The palace was designed by Italian architect Raffaele Caritto. Ernst Herter, a famous German sculptor, was commissioned to create works inspired from Greek mythology. His famous sculpture Dying Achilles, created in Berlin in 1884 as inscribed in the statue, forms the centrepiece of the Achilleion Gardens.
Even before a visitor has entered the palace of Achilleion , they will feel the greatness endowed by looking at the even the first statues that inhabit the outer areas, all inspired by ancient Greek mythology. As one enters the palace grounds, they can see the beautiful gardens, an invaluable piece of art, which rhapsodize Greek mythology with statues of Zeus and Hera, and other smaller statues and sculptures. Inside the palace to the right there is a portrait of Empress Elisabeth, while on the left one will gaze upon the marble fireplace and the small statues that decorate it. The roof is decorated with a large painting (fresco), piece of unspeakable art, that enraptures the four seasons of time. At the end of the stairs there is an enormous oil painting that portrays the triumph of Achilles at the battle with Hector.
Empress Elisabeth’s catholic chapel is referred as a piece of art, with impressive parts being the painting on the arch-shaped ceiling that represents the trial of Christ. At Elisabeth’s room there are many pieces of art that originally came from her sleeping chamber, just as a large painting that represents Odysseus (Ulysses) and Naussica on the Phaecian island. In Kaiser’s room there are many personal items of the Emperor of Germany William II on display, such as a portrait of himself and other painting portraying nautical themes.
The outer areas of the palace are decorated with incomparable pieces of art. The ‘Peristyle of the Muses’ of Achilleion (a garden surrounded by columns) is of the Ionic style and took its name from the statues of the nine muses which are on the top floor of the palace gardens. These statues are also accompanied by the statue of Hermes, and Apollo. Inside the arcade of the peristyle reside thirteen busts of ancient philosophers and poets not counting the tribute to Shakespeare. The most valuable statue of Achilleion is the ‘Dying Achilles’ that represents Achilles dying trying to remove the spear from his ankle, The statue of ‘Victorious Achilles’ is the largest statue of Achilles, with unbelievable dimensions, where Achilles is presented in the moment of victory.
The palace became a center of European diplomacy until the outbreak of World War I. During the war, French and Serbian troops used it as a military hospital. After the war had ended, it came into the possession of the Greek State as part of the war reparations in 1919. From 1921 to 1924 the palace housed the Save the Children Fund orphanage. During the years 1941-1944, Italian and German occupation forces used the palace as a military headquarter, but returned it to the Greek State at the end of the war. In 1962 the Achilleion was leased out, and the upper floors were turned into a casino. The casino scene in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only was filmed at the Achilleion Palace. By 1983 the palace came under the management of the Greek Tourism Organisation and was restored to a museum and used for the European Union Summit. Ever since the Achilleion in Corfu has been used as a museum and a venue for various events.
“O’er thee, like thine own sea birds
I’ll circle without rest
For me earth holds no corner
To build a lasting nest.”
― Elisabeth of Austria
General admission: 7€
Reduced admission fees: 5€
information and photos taken: © W. Ruth Kozak | © achilleion museum | © wikipedia