Achillion Palace of Corfu
The beautiful Achilleion(Achillion) Palace sits 10 km south of the city of Corfu and three kms north of the village of Benitses on the edge of Gastouri village. It was built by Empress Elizabeth of Austria who became known as the sad queen Sissy. Elizabeth was the younger daughter of the Duke of Bavaria, and the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, was told by his mother to marry her elder sister, but he fell in love with her instead. She felt stifled by the very strict protocol, dominating mother in law, and the regimented life in Vienna, and appears to have suffered minor breakdowns and depression frequently. She travelled extensively for her health, and this became almost manic following the suicide of her son Rudolf, who shot himself and his mistress in a suicide pact at a hunting lodge called Mayerling. Coming to Corfu she fell in love with the estate of the diplomat and philosopher Petros Braila -Armeni, and he gave it to her. She then demolished the simple house and built the Achilleion Palace. She was well known in the vicinity, and much loved as she had a well dug in lower Gastouri which saved the women walking long distances to get good water. Once the palace was finished however she lost interest in it somewhat, and came less frequently to the island. On a visit to Geneva she was assassinated by an Italian anarchist, who later said that he had gone to Geneva to kill a sovereign, and did not mind which one he killed, as long as he succeeded! Elizabeth was an exceptionally beautiful woman, and a skilful rider. She was almost certainly anorexic, as she dieted maniacally, and never weighed more than 50 kilos. She and her husband ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire, but whereas the Hungarians hated the Austrian rulers they loved Elizabeth, who also loved Budapest where she could escape from the rituals of Vienna. To this day Hungarians talk fondly of her, and they, and also German speaking visitors, especially enjoy visiting the palace this sad woman created on a Greek island. The decoration of Achilleion was supervised by Elizabeth herself and reflects her admiration and love for Classical Greece, both interior and exterior are decorated with statues of ancient philosophers, heroes and mythical ancient gods. The entrance is decorated with many statues and columns, two centaurs decorate the balcony on the first floor and four brass Mice guard the balcony of the second floor. Beside the columns are statues of gods and philosophers. On the second floor there is a brass statue of the god Hermes and the central large hall is dominated by works of Italian painters, most notably that of the Austrian Franz Matt depicting the triumph of Achilles. On the balcony of the first floor, where there were the apartments of the Empress, the Ionic columns are ajoined by busts of philosophers and statues of the nine muses. In the gardens of the palace are found the famous statues of the dying Achilles, Dionysus with Satyros on his shoulders, an impressive statue of Achilles 11.5 meters high and a statue of Lord Byron. After the murder of Elizabeth, the palace was bought by the Kaiser of Germany William II The Kaiser made additions to the building and built the Kaiser’s bridge, 2 km from Benitses, to use it for swimming away from prying eyes, and also mooring his yacht. It is said that he came here in summer to draw up his war plans secretly. During the First World War Achilleion palace was used as a military hospital, then fell into decay, but during the 1970s and 1980s it housed the casino of Corfu. Today it is a museum, historical site, and conference centre.