ACHILLEION PALACE HISTORY
The whole area is connected with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, often known as Sissy, whose summer palace the famous Achilleio stands a mere two kilometers from the village Gastouri. The life of the Empress Elizabeth has repeatedly been the subject of novels and films, as a result of her beauty her strenght of character and the story of her love for the Emperor Franz Josef.
Elizabeth the Austrian Emperor in 1854 and the couple had two daughters,Sophia and Gisela,and a son called Rudolf. But Elizabeth’s libaral notions displeased her mother-in-law,the Archduchess Sophia,who personally took in hand the upbringing of the royal children and denied their mother access to them.
Such little contact as there had been between the children and their mother came to an abrupt end when,on one of the journeys of the Imperial couple young Sophia died and Elizabeth was held responsible for the tragedy.Her health broken ,she travelled to Madeira to recuperate and on her way back to Austria in 1861 stopped off at Corfu,whose beauty made an immediate impression on her.In the summer of the same year, Elizabeth returned to the island and stayed at Mon Repos,returning in the autumn to Vienna to give birth to Valeria,her last daughter.
Over this period , she began to take a much greater interest in politicks. In 1869 Franz Josef and Elizabeth were declared monarchs of Hungary. In 1876 Elizabeth travelled on her own to Athens and Corfu and threw herself into a study of ancient Greek literature-especially of Homer. She also took a keen interest in the excavations being carried out at the time by Heinrich Schliemann in Troy, Mycenae and Tiryns. After a long trip to Troy and many other parts of the ancient Greek world,she returned to Corfu in 1888 and stayed as a guest in the Vrailas villa. A year later Elizabeth bought the estate and began work on the construction of the palace in an atmosphere of profound mourning,because in the meantime her son Rudolf and his lover had been found dead. During her time at the Achilleio Elizabeth learned the Greek language and much about the ancient literature from eminent teachers notable among whom the scholar and writer Constantinos Christomanos,who was officially employed for this purpose by the Imperial court.
In 1898 the ‘melancholy queen’ as had come to be called was assassinated in a hotel in Geneva by an Italian anarchist. Elizabeth called her palace at Gastouri village the Achillio dedicating it to her favourite hero Achilles. The Achilleio was constructed in 1889-1891,by the Italian architects Rafael Corito and Antonio Lanti, under the personal supervision of the Empress,who also took charge of the ornamentation of the palace with paintings and sculptures, most of which were purchased from the Borghese family. It is a luxurious three-storey building in the Pompeian order with neo-Classical elements and it is surrounded by densely-vegetated gardens adorned with important works of art.
In 1908,after the death of Elizabeth, the Achilleio was bought by Wilhelm II, the German Kaiser and in 1914-on the outbreak of the first world war it was abandoned. In 1915 it was used as the headquarters of the Serbian Army and as a hospital,coming into the hands of the Greek state in 1919. During the second world war it served as a hospital again and as the head quarters of the German and Italian occupying forces and after liberation it houses a variety of schools and institutions. Today it belongs to the National Tourist Organisation and from 1962 to 1992 Corfu casino operated there. The ground floor of the building functions as a museum.We enter the Achillio through an iron gate ornamented with two bronze reliefs ,of Zeus and Achilles . The first room on the ground floor , the reception ball has a fresco in the center of its ceiling by the Italian painter Galopi on the theme of the FOUR SEASONS. Also of interest in this room are the Italian marble fireplace two statuettes of Athena and Hebe and a painting of Elizabeth by the German artist Witterhalter.
At the far end of the reception hall a magnificent staircase flanked by bronze statues of Zeus and Hera and by a large collection of marble and plaster sculptures leads to the upper floors.To the right of the reception room is the EMPRESS’S CATHOLIC CHAPER,in the sanctuary apse are representations of Christ and Pontius Pilate beneath which is an icon of Christ and Our Lady. There are two recesses with statues of Christ and Our Lady an altar and a harmonium.Next to the chapel is a room with mementoes of Empress two poems written by her and a bust of Franz Josef.
The last room on the ground floor contains Elizabeth’s desk, bookcase,chaise-longue and other items of furniture,three carved mirrors,bronze statues and busts photographs pieces of jewellery and an oil-painting on the theme of the meeting on Scheria betwwen Odysseus and Nausica. The grand staircase ends on the top floor in a balcony with an Ionic peristyle ornamented with busts and with statues of the nine Nuses. The wall above the balcony is decorated with an impressive painting of THE TRIUMPH OF ACHILLES by the German painter Franz Matz. Achilles is shown upright on his chariot as he races in triumph around the walls of Troy,dragging the body of Hector behind him and holding the dead man’s helmet.The horses of Achilles are strikingly rendered and the entire composition is very vigorous. The gardens of the Achilleio are among the most beautiful places on Corfu and enjoy a superb view across to the Kanoni. They too are a kind of open-air museum being full of outstanding sculptures.
Notable among this statuary are compositions showing Apollo,Hermes,Artemis and Aphrodite near the entrance to the palace the statues of the nine Muses and the Graces in the Ionic peristyle of the rear veranda the busts of ancient philosophers and poets behind the columns of the peristyle the marble statue of Lord Byron on the topmost balcony on the side facing the forest and the statue of Elizabeth herself close to the sea. However the most important statues in the grounds of the Achilleio are the DYING ACHILLES and the TRIUMPHANT ACHILLES. The former of these originally stood on the large terrace in the gardens where the latter is now located. This is a short, history of Achilleio a tourist attraction each year visiting THOUSAND TOURISTS