Achilleion (Greek: Αχίλλειο or Αχίλλειον) is a palace built in Corfu by Empress (German: Kaiserin) of Austria Elisabeth of Bavaria, also known as Sisi, after a suggestion by Austrian Consul Alexander von Watzberg. 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 (Γαστούρι), now the municipality of Achilleion, about ten kilometres to the south of the city of Corfu. The palace was designed with the mythical hero Achilles as its central theme. Corfu was Elizabeth's favourite vacation place and she built the palace because she admired Greece and its language and culture. Achilleion's location provides a panoramic view of Corfu city to the north, and across the whole southern part of the island.
The Achilleion property was originally owned by Corfiote philosopher and diplomat Petros Vrailas Armenis and it was known as "Villa Vraila". In 1888 the Empress of Austria after visiting the place decided that it was the ideal location for her to build her palace in Corfu. The palace was designed by Italian architect Raffaele Caritto and built on a 200,000 m2 area. Elizabeth's husband, emperor Josef of Austria, had owned some nearby land as well. Ernst Herter, a famous German sculptor, was commissioned to create works inspired from Greek mythology. His famous sculpture Dying Achilles (Ancient Greek: Αχιλλεύς θνήσκων), created in Berlin in 1884 as inscribed in the statue, forms the centrepiece of the Achilleion Gardens.
The place abounds with paintings and statues of Achilles, both in the main hall and in the lavish gardens depicting the heroic and tragic scenes of the Trojan war. The architectural style is Pompeian and has many parallels to that of the Russian imperial residence in Crimea.
The Imperial gardens on top of the hill provide a majestic view of the surrounding green hill crests and valleys as the Ionian sea gleams in the background.
After Elisabeth's death, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II purchased Achilleion in 1907 from her heirs and used it as a summer residence. During Kaiser Wilhelm's visits a lot of diplomatic activity used to take place in Achilleion and it became a hub of European diplomacy.
Wilhelm, expanding on the main theme of the grounds, commissioned his own Achilles statue from the sculptor Johannes Götz who created an imposing bronze sculpture that stands tall as a guardian of the Gardens facing north toward the city.
Archaeologist Reinhard Kekulé von Stradonitz, who was also the Kaiser's advisor, was invited by the Kaiser to come to Corfu to give him advice where to position the huge statue. The famous salute to Achilles from the Kaiser, which had been inscribed at the statue's base, was also created by Kekulé. The inscription read:
To the Greatest Greek from the Greatest German
The inscription was subsequently removed after WWII.
Kaiser's statue represents Achilles in full hoplite uniform with intricate detailing such as a relief of a gorgon's head at the shield, apparently to petrify any enemies, as well as lion heads as knee protectors. This tall statue is surrounded by palm trees that complement its graceful outline. Kaiser Wilhelm visited the place until 1914 when World War I was declared. The Kaiser also attended performances at the Municipal Theatre of Corfu while vacationing at the Achilleion.
Kaiser, while vacationing at Achilleion and while Europe was preparing for war, had been involved in excavations at the site of the ancient temple of Artemis in Corfu. He also removed the statue of Jewish poet Heinrich Heine which Empress Elisabeth had installed at Achilleion. Kaiser's actions became the subject of the film-poem The Gaze of the Gorgon, written by British poet Tony Harrison.
During World War I, the Achilleion was used as a military hospital by French and Serbian troops. After World War I, it became the property of the Greek state according to the treaty of Versailles and the war reparations that followed in 1919.
In 1962 the Achilleion was leased to a private company that converted the upper level to a casino and the lower grounds to a museum. In 1983 the lease was terminated and the palace management was returned to the HTO.
Briefly reclaiming the status of centre for European diplomacy that it possessed during the Kaiser years, the Achilleion has been used in recent times for the European summit meeting in 1994, and in 2003 it hosted the meeting of the European ministers for Agriculture. Lately it has been used as a museum while the casino function has been relocated to the Corfu Hilton.
Achilleion in film
Soon, in 1994,
in this palace Greece starts to restore,
in this the Kaiser's old retreat
Europe's heads of state will meet...
- Greek National Tourist Organisation information window at the Achilleion Grounds
- George Kritikos; Nikos Poulis; Carolyn Simpson; T. (M. Toubis) Spiropoulos, John Palogiannidis (1996). Achilleion Corfu: A Guided Tour in the Majestic Palace of "Sissi". Seven Islands Pub. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
- Franz Joseph I of Austria and His Empire. Ardent Media. pp. 116–. GGKEY:DQ4K12079NF. "g. ... to gratify her admiration for Greece, Greek culture, and the Greek language, which she cultivated assiduously."
- Mima Nixon (1916). Royal palaces & gardens. A. & C. Black, ltd. pp. 158–166. Retrieved 4 May 2013. "Sunset, The Achilleion, Corfu The sunsets are wonderful in Corfu, and from the Achilleion one looks at the sinking sun across the whole width of the island, which is about six or eight miles at this, its southern end. I think it was on the ..."
- Frank Giles; Spiro Flamburiari; Fritz Von der Schulenburg (1 September 1994). Corfu: the garden isle. J. Murray in association with the Hellenic Group of Companies Ltd. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-55859-845-4. Retrieved 10 May 2013. "The property was owned by a Corfiot philosopher, politician and diplomat named Petros Vrailas Armenis and went by the name of "Villa Vraila". As soon as Elisabeth inspected the place in the autumn of 1888 she decided it was the perfect site..."
- Angelika Dierichs (2004). Korfu - Kerkyra: Grüne insel im ionischen Meer von Nausikaa bis Kaise Wilhelm II. Philipp von Zabern Verlag, GmbH. p. 82. ISBN 978-3-8053-3324-5. Retrieved 11 May 2013. "Auf der Insel beim Dorf Gastoüri wird Elisabeth später, nach Abriss der Villa des Petras Vrailas-Armenis, die neue Residenz auf einem 200 000 Quadratmeter großen Gelände - Franz Josef I. von Österreich hatte umliegende Grundstücke..."
- Jörg Michael Henneberg; Nicolaus Sombart; Ruth Steinberg (January 2004). Das Sanssouci Kaiser Wilhelm II: Der letzte Deutsche Kaiser, das Achilleion und Korfu. Isensee Florian GmbH. p. 23. ISBN 978-3-89995-040-3. Retrieved 11 May 2013. "Kaiserin Elisabeth, Sisi genannt, hatte Korfu bereits 1861 kennen und recht bald diese schöne Insel des Mittelmeeres lieben ... Bereits im Dezember 1888 hatte sie die Villa Vrailas Armenis sowie die umliegenden Grundstücke erworben und..."
- Biblos. 55-56. Gesellschaft der Freunde der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek. 2006. p. 623. Retrieved 11 May 2013. "Den „touristischen" Weg nach Korfu hatte viel früher Kaiserin Elisabeth von Österreich geöffnet, als sie 1861 zum ersten Mal dorthin reiste. 1889 kaufte Kaiser Franz Josef Grund und Villa des griechischen Diplomaten Petros Vrailas-Armenis in ..."
- Achilleion website
- John C. G. Röhl; Nicolaus Sombart; John C. G. Rohl (2005). Kaiser Wilhelm II: New Interpretations : the Corfu Papers. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-0-521-01990-3. Retrieved 4 May 2013. "On the fragrant wooded hills of Corfu, overlooking the sea to Albania and mainland Greece, stands the Achilleion."
- Peter Sheldon (1968). Peloponnese & Greek Islands. Collins. p. 39. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
- Hans Koning (1 July 1995). The Almost World. Longriver Hk Books. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-942986-54-9. Retrieved 4 May 2013. "The Kaiser summered on Corfu where he put up a statue of Achilles with the inscription, To the Greatest Greek from the Greatest German. The marble bathroom in his villa had provisions for warm mud baths and warm seawater baths."
- Peter Sheldon (1966). Greece. Batsford. p. 60. Retrieved 4 May 2013. "another colossal statue of Achilles was put up with the modest dedication ' to the greatest Greek from the greatest German'."
- John C. G. Röhl (1998). Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859-1888. Cambridge University Press. p. 297. ISBN 978-0-521-49752-7. Retrieved 4 May 2013. "After the purchase of the 'Achilleion', Kekule was invited by the Kaiser to go to Corfu to provide advice on the positioning of the ... 94 Without a doubt, Wilhelm's lifelong obsession with the statue of the Gorgon unearthed in Corfu stems from the ..."
- Sherry Marker; John S. Bowman; Peter Kerasiotis (1 March 2010). Frommer's Greek Islands. John Wiley & Sons. p. 476. ISBN 978-0-470-52664-4. Retrieved 4 May 2013. "Achilles that the Kaiser had inscribed, to the Greatest Greek from the Greatest German, a sentiment removed after World War II."
- Municipality of Corfu Official Website. (2008) History of the municipal theatre Accessed July 8, 2008.
- Shanks, Michael (1996). The Classical Archaeology of Greece: Experiences of the Discipline. Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Incorporated. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-415-08521-2. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
- JISC. "The Ionian Conference II 1999 Integrating the New Europe". JISC. "The upper floors of the Achilleion Palace, refurbished for the EU Corfu Summit of June 1994, have been designated as the seat of the Academy."
- For Your Eyes Only website
- Tony Harrison (1992). The gaze of the Gorgon. Bloodaxe Books. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-85224-238-1. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Greek National Tourist Organisation information window at the Achilleion Grounds
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