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Achilleion Information Guide

Achilleion 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 (????????), 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. Elisabeth spoke Greek better than any of the Greek queens that were her contemporaries and she expressed a desire to further immerse herself in the Greek culture. Like every other European royal, she had some Byzantine emperors among her distant ancestors. From its position one can see the view 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, created in Berlin in 1884 as inscribed in the statue, forms the centrepiece of the Achilleion Gardens.

The palace, with the classic Greek statues that surround it, is a monument to platonic romanticism as well as escapism and was, naturally, named after Achilles: Achilleion. 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. Elisabeth used to visit the place often until 1898 when she was assassinated in Geneva by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni.

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.

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