The Achilleion Palace is located on top of the hill in the Village of Gastouri, 10 kms south west of the town of Corfu. Its positioning provides views over the surrounding countryside with its green hills and valleys and the Ionian Sea in the background.
The building was acquired by Empress Elizabeth (known as Sisi), of Austria, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, from the philosopher and diplomat Petros Vrailas Armenis and was formerly known as "Villa Vraila". After visiting the villa in 1888, the Empress decided that it was the ideal location for her to build a palace as a summer retreat in Corfu. In 1890, following the death of her son Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, Italian architect Raffaele Caritto was appointed and he undertook significant alterations designing the palace in the Pompeian architectural style, which has many similarities to that used by the Russian Imperial family. The palace was designed to represent an ancient Phoenician palace with the mythical hero Achilles, after whom the palace is names, as its central theme
The German sculptor Ernst Herter was commissioned to create works based on Greek mythology, the most famous of his works being his Dying Achilles sculpture, which formed the centrepiece of the Achilleion Gardens. This shows Achilles trying to removel the arrow from his heel. The Palace contains numerous classic Greek statues, many of which are based on the events of Homerís Trojan War
It is not just the gardens which contain statues of Achilles, as the palace also contains several statues and many paintings.
Following the assassination of the Empress in Geneva in 1898 the palace was deserted until 1907, when it was bought by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany as a summer residence and for diplomatic entertaining.
During the time when the palace was occupied by the Kaiser, he is said to have re-landscaped the gardens. The large imposing bronze sculpture of Achilles in full hoplite uniform that stands in the Gardens facing north toward the city was commissioned by Wilhelm who used the palace until 1914 and the outbreak of World War I.
During World War I, the palace was used by French and Serbian troops as a military hospital. After the War, it was ceded to the Greek state under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. From 1919 until 1939 it was used to house various government services and a number of the artefacts in the palace where disposed of.
During World War II, the palace was used by the axis powers (Germany and Italy) as a military headquarters. The palace was given the status of a Public building after World War II, when it was taken over by the Hellenic Tourist Organisation (HTO).
In 1962 it was leased to a private company who utilised the ground floor as a museum but used the upper floor for a casino. In 1983 it was returned to the HTO and was used for the European summit meeting in 1994.
At the main entrance to the building is a statue of Empress Elizabeth. No statues or paintings of her show her smiling, due to her discoloured teeth, which she preferred not to have displayed.
On entry to the front is the main stairway with two ionic columns either side of the stairway and the statues of Zeus and Hera. The ceiling of the entrance is decorated with a large fresco depicting the four seasons.
On the right is a portrait of the Empress and the chapel with its arch-shaped ceiling, showing a painting depicting the trial of Christ. In the adjacent rooms are her personal items and those of her husband. It also displays records and documents relating to her assassination by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni. In the adjoining Kaiserís room are the personal items of the Emperor William II, which are on display, which include paintings of the imperial yacht.
On the left side of the entrance is a marble fireplace containing a clock and small statues. The doors leading off this room lead to other exhibition rooms which house the furniture used there.
At the top of the stairs is a painting by Austrian artist Franz Matsch depicting the Triumph of Achilles over Hector and shows the body of Hector being dragged by Achilles from his chariot. From this floor, access can be gained to the garden and the Peristyle which contains the nine statues of the Muses and the statue of Apollo and the three Graces. The peristyle is known as the Arcade of the Wise Men as it contains 13 busts of ancient philosophers and also the bust of Shakespeare. From this position, there is a view to the cenotaph where Empress Elizabethís son Rudolph was placed. This is situated in the Achilleion Forest.
These days the Achilleion is used as a museum and as a venue for various events.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.
Copyright - All Photographs copyright Ron Gatepain