Achilleion (Greek: Αχίλλειο or Αχίλλειον) is a palace built in Gastouri (Γαστούρι) on the Island of Corfu for the Empress (German: Kaiserin) Elisabeth of Austria, also known as Sisi, after a suggestion by the Austrian consul Alexander von Warsberg. Elisabeth was deeply saddened by the tragic loss of her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria following the Mayerling incident in 1889, and a year later she had this summer palace built as a refuge.
The architectural style was designed to suggest an ancient palace of mythical Phaeacia The motif centers on the hero Achilles of Greek mythology, from which the name is derived. Corfu was Elisabeth's favourite vacation destination and she wanted a palace to gratify her admiration for Greece, its language and its culture.
Creation by Empress Elizabeth
The Achilleion property was originally owned by Corfiote philosopher and diplomat Petros Vrailas Armenis, and was known as "Villa Vraila". In 1888, the Empress of Austria after visiting the place decided that it was the ideal location for her own palace on Corfu.
|"I want a palace with pillared colonnades and hanging gardens, protected from prying glances - a palace worthy of Achilles, who despised all mortals and did not fear even the gods."|
|Elisabeth of Austria|
The palace was designed by Italian architect Raffaele Caritto and built on an area of 200,000 m2. Elisabeth's husband, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, had owned some nearby land as well. The German sculptor Ernst Herter was commissioned to create works inspired from Greek mythology. His 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 architectural design was intended to represent an ancient Phaeacian palace. The building, with the classical Greek statues that surround it, is a monument to platonic romanticism as well as escapism and was named after Achilles: Achilleion.
Paintings and statues of Achilles are abundant, both in the main hall and in the gardens, depicting contrasting heroic and tragic scenes of the Trojan war. The architectural style is Pompeian and has many parallels to that of the Livadia Palace, the Russian imperial residence in Crimea. Elisabeth wrote that "I want a palace with pillared colonnades and hanging gardens, protected from prying glances — a palace worthy of Achilles, who despised all mortals and did not fear even the gods." Sisi only used the Achilleion as a private palace, as a refuge from the world and her past. She only received her daughters Archduchess Marie Valerie and Archduchess Gisela with their husbands there. Elisabeth's husband, Emperor Franz Joseph, did not like sea voyages and never saw the palace.
The gardens on top of the hill provide a scenic view of the surrounding green hills and valleys, with the Ionian sea in the background.
Elisabeth frequently visited Achilleion until spring 1896. She lost interest in her palace though and even considered selling it. Much of the interior was moved back to Vienna. In September 1898 Elisabeth was assassinated by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva.
Achilleion was inherited by Elisabeth's daughter, Archduchess Gisela, but was not used often. German Kaiser Wilhelm II purchased Achilleion in 1907 and used it as a summer residence. During Kaiser Wilhelm's visits substantial diplomatic activity occurred in Achilleion and it became a hub of European diplomacy. The Greek royal family, and particularly Wilhelm's sister Sophia of Prussia, the crown princess and later queen consort of Greece, often came to visit Corfu. The Kaiser also invited intellectuals like the German archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld to his retreat. The Emperor had a great interest in the plants of the park and hired Carl Ludwig Sprenger, a renowned botanist, who would live in the palace for about three months every year. Wilhelm mainly came to Achilleion during the Easter season as he enjoyed the local festivities and cultural events. The German imperial family were staying on Corfu for about one month every year until the outbreak of World War I, except in 1910 and 1913 when they did not go there due to political conflicts on the Balkans.
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 as 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 for advice as to where to position the huge statue. This tribute to Achilles from the Kaiser was inscribed at the statue's base, also by Kekulé:
To the Greatest Greek from the Greatest German
The inscription was subsequently removed after WWII.
The 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. 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.
The 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 German 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.
The World Wars
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.
From about 1921 to 1924, the palace housed an orphanage, which accommodated Armenian orphans from Constantinople. In the remaining years between the two world wars, the Achilleion property was used for various government functions and a number of artifacts were auctioned off.
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.
In September 1979, twelve historians from the United States, the UK, and Germany, assembled to discuss Kaiser Wilhelm's character and the historical role he played in German politics and society. The conference was held at what once was the Kaiser's bed-chamber and the proceedings were published in the book Kaiser Wilhelm II New Interpretations: The Corfu Papers.
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...
Kaiser's Bridge ca. 1918, before its destruction by the Wehrmacht, at the foot of the Achilleion
- Greek National Tourist Organisation information notice 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.
- 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 ...
- John Freely (30 April 2008). The Ionian Islands: Corfu, Cephalonia and Beyond. I.B.Tauris. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-85771-828-0.
- 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.
- "The History of Achilleion Palace". www.achillion-corfu.gr. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- 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 Archived 2010-07-25 at the Wayback Machine
- Joan Haslip (2000). The Lonely Empress: A Biography of Elizabeth of Austria. Phoenix. p. 419. ISBN 978-1-84212-098-9.
- Derek A. C. Davies (1 December 1971). The Greek Islands. Kodansha International. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-87011-154-9.
- Stefan Haderer (15 December 2018). A Fairytale Palace on Corfu: I: The Achilleion and Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Ted Rosvall. pp. 56–62. ISSN 1653-5219.
- 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. pp. 108–116. ISBN 978-1-55859-845-4. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
Back in Corfu town the King suggested that I purchase the Achilleion as a retreat where the Empress and I could relax after the rigours of the harsh Berlin winter. He added that he personally, together with his country and government, would be ...
- 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.
- Stefan Haderer (15 March 2019). A Fairytale Palace on Corfu: II: The Achilleion and German Emperor Wilhelm II. Ted Rosvall. pp. 48–54. ISSN 1653-5219.
- 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 Archived June 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine 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.
- "Narrator's Name: Mr. Zaven Avedis Kish" (PDF). Armenian Oral History Project. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-05.
- 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.
- Kardamitsi-Adami, Maro (2009). Palaces in Greece. Melissa Books. ISBN 978-960-204-289-2.
- Haderer, Stefan (2018). A Fairytale Palace on Corfu. I: The Achilleion and Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Royalty Digest Quarterly 4/2018. ISSN 1653-5219.
- Haderer, Stefan (2019). A Fairytale Palace on Corfu. II: The Achilleion and German Emperor Wilhelm II. Royalty Digest Quarterly 1/2019. ISSN 1653-5219.
- Greek National Tourist Organisation information window at the Achilleion Grounds
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Achilleion (Corfu).|
- "Welcome to Achilleion Palace". www.achillion-corfu.gr. — Official museum website