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Achilleion (Corfu)

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Title: Achilleion (Corfu)  
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Subject: Corfu, Achilles, Mon Repos, Corfu, Wilhelm II, German Emperor, Empress Elisabeth of Austria
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Achilleion (Corfu)

Achilleion Palace main entrance

Achilleion (Greek: Αχίλλειο or Αχίλλειον) is a 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 Watzberg.[1][2] 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.[3] Achilleion's location provides a panoramic view of Corfu city to the north, and across the whole southern part of the island.[4]


Dying Achilles (Achilleas thniskon) in the gardens of the Achilleion. Note Achilles' gaze skywards as if to seek help from Olympus: his mother Thetis was a goddess

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.[5] 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.[1][6][7][8] 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 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 Triumph of Achilles by Franz von Matsch. Achilles is seen dragging Hector's lifeless body in front of the Gates of Troy. (From a panoramic fresco on the upper level of the main hall) [9]

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.[1]

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.


Statues in the Achilleion terrace

After Elisabeth's death, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II purchased Achilleion in 1907 from her heirs and used it as a summer residence.[5][10] During Kaiser Wilhelm's visits a lot of diplomatic activity used to take place in Achilleion and it became a hub of European diplomacy.[1]

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:[11][12][13][14] The inscription was subsequently removed after WWII.[15]
Achilles as guardian of the palace in the gardens of the Achilleion. He gazes northward, toward the city. The inscription in Greek reads: ΑΧΙΛΛΕΥΣ i.e. Achilles. It was commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kaiser's statue represents Achilles in full hoplite uniform with intricate detailing such as a relief of a 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.[1] The Kaiser also attended performances at the Municipal Theatre of Corfu while vacationing at the Achilleion.[16]

Kaiser, while vacationing at Achilleion and while Europe was preparing for war, had been involved in excavations at the site of the ancient Tony Harrison.

The Wars

The main staircase of the Achilleion

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.[1]

From about 1921 to 1924, the palace housed the Save the Children Fund orphanage under the administration of brothers Garabed and Margos Keshishian. This operation moved its 1,000+ orphans, including many Armenians, from Constantinople after Ataturk took Smyrna. [18]

In the years between World War I and World War II the Achilleion property was used to house various government services and at the same time a number of artifacts were auctioned off.[1]

During [1]

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.[1]

European role

Painting at the ceiling of the main entrance of the Achilleion, created by Italian painter Vincenzo Galloppi

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,[19] and in 2003 it hosted the meeting of the European ministers for Agriculture.[1] Lately it has been used as a museum while the casino function has been relocated to the Corfu Hilton.

Achilleion in film

The Achilleion chapel

The casino scene of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981) was filmed at the Achilleion.[20]

Achilleion is also featured chorus of tourists says in rhyming verse:[21]
Soon, in 1994,
in this palace Greece starts to restore,
in this the Kaiser's old retreat
Europe's heads of state will meet...


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Greek National Tourist Organisation information window at the Achilleion Grounds
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ 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 ... 
  5. ^ a b 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.  
  6. ^ Angelika Dierichs (2004). Korfu - Kerkyra: Grüne insel im ionischen Meer von Nausikaa bis Kaise Wilhelm II. Philipp von Zabern Verlag, GmbH. p. 82.  
  7. ^ 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.  
  8. ^ 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 ... 
  9. ^ Achilleion website
  10. ^ 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.  
  11. ^ Peter Sheldon (1968). Peloponnese & Greek Islands. Collins. p. 39. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Hans Koning (1 July 1995). The Almost World. Longriver Hk Books. p. 183.  
  13. ^ 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'. 
  14. ^ John C. G. Röhl (1998). Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859-1888. Cambridge University Press. p. 297.  
  15. ^ Sherry Marker; John S. Bowman; Peter Kerasiotis (1 March 2010). Frommer's Greek Islands. John Wiley & Sons. p. 476.  
  16. ^ Municipality of Corfu Official Website. (2008) History of the municipal theatre Accessed July 8, 2008.
  17. ^ a b Shanks, Michael (1996). The Classical Archaeology of Greece: Experiences of the Discipline. Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Incorporated. p. 169.  
  18. ^
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ websiteFor Your Eyes Only
  21. ^ Tony Harrison (1992). The gaze of the Gorgon. Bloodaxe Books. p. 75.  



  • Greek National Tourist Organisation information window at the Achilleion Grounds

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