Achilleion is a palace built in Corfu by Empress (German: Kaiserin) of
Austria Elisabeth of Bavaria, also known as Sissi, after a suggestion by Austrian
Consul Alexander von Watzberg. Sissi 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 affair 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. Sissi 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.
Sissi bought the property from Corfiot Petros
Vrailas Armenis who was also a friend. The palace was designed by Italian architect
Raffaele Caritto. 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
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.
Sissi used to visit the place often until 1898
when she was assassinated in Geneva by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni.
After Sissi's death, 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
at the time.
Wilhelm, expanding on the main theme of the grounds, commissioned his
own Achilles statue from sculptor Johannes Götz who created an imposing bronze sculpture
that stands tall as a guardian of the Gardens facing north toward the city.
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,
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. The Kaiser also attended performances at the
Municipal Theatre of Corfu while vacationing at the Achilleion.
Saint Spyridon - the Keeper of the City
Saint Spyridon, also referred to as Saint Spyridon the Keeper of the City, is the
patron saint of the island.
St. Spyridon is revered for the miracle of expelling
the plague from the island, amongst many other miracles attributed to him. It is
believed by the faithful that on its way from the island the plague scratched one
of the fortification stones of the old citadel to indicate its fury at being expelled.
St. Spyridon is also attributed the role of saving the island at the second great
siege of Corfu of 1716. Its legend ran that the sight of St. Spyridon approaching
turkish forces bearing a flaming torch in one hand and a cross in the other, had
caused panic. This miracle is one of the earliest successful examples of psychological
operations in warfare (psyops). This victory over the Ottomans, therefore, was attributed
not only to the leadership of Count Schulenburg who commanded the stubborn defence
of the island against Turkish forces, but also to the miraculous intervention of
Venice honoured von der Schulenburg and the Corfiots for successfully
defending the island. Recognizing St. Spyridon's role in the defence of the island
Venice legislated the establishment of the litany of St Spyridon on the 11th of
August as a commemoration of the miraculous event, inaugurating a tradition that
continues to this day.
In 1716 composer Antonio Vivaldi, on commission by the republic
of Venice, created the oratorio Juditha triumphans to commemorate this great event.
Juditha triumphans was composed and performed in November of 1716 in Venice by the
orchestra and choir of the Ospedale della Pietà and is described as Vivaldi's first
An architectural overview: From classical to modern
The Harbour of Corfu in 1890
Corfu contains a few very important remains of antiquity. The site of the ancient
city of Corcyra (Kerkyra) is well ascertained, about 1.5 miles (2 km) to the south-east
of Corfu, upon the narrow piece of ground between the sea-lake of Halikiopoulo and
the Bay of Castrades, in each of which it had a port. The circular tomb of Menekrates,
with its well-known inscription, is on the Bay of Castrades. Under the hill of Ascension
are the remains of a temple, popularly called of Poseidon, a very simple dome structure,
which still in its mutilated state presents some peculiarities of architecture.
Of Cassiope, the only other city of ancient importance, the name is still preserved
by the village of Cassiopi, and there are some rude remains of building on the site;
but the temple of Zeus Cassius for which it was celebrated has totally disappeared.
Throughout the island numerous monasteries and other buildings of Venetian erection
are to be found, of which the best known are Paleokastritsa, San Salvador and Peleka.
The Achilleion is a palace commissioned by Elisabeth of Austria and purchased in
1907 by Wilhelm II of Germany; it is now a popular tourist attraction.
Part of the old town centre from above Corfu Town is famous for its
Italianate architecture, most notably the Liston' an arched colonnade lined with
cafes on the edge of the Spianada (Esplanade), the vast main plaza and park which
incorporates a cricket field and several pavilions. Also notable are the Venetian-Roman
style City Hall, the Old and New castles, the recently restored Palace of Sts. Michael
and George, formerly the residence of the British governor and the seat of the Ionian
Senate, and the summer Palace of Mon Repos, formerly the property of the Greek royal
family and birthplace of the Duke of Edinburgh. The Park of Mon Repos is adjacent
to the Palaiopolis of Kerkyra, where excavations were conducted by the Greek Archaeological
Service in collaboration with the University of Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium, and
Brown University in the United States.
Examples of the finds can be found in the
Museum of the Palace of Mon Repos.
Architectural catastrophies of World War II
the second world war the island was bombed by the German air force, resulting in
the destruction of most of the town's buildings, including its market and Hotel
Bella Venezia. The worst architectural losses of Hitler's Luftwaffe bombardment
were the splendid buildings of the Ionian Academy, and the Municipal Theatre (which
in 1901 had replaced the Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo), with the Roman style Theatre
of the city later replaced by a nondescript, modern box-style building. There have
been discussions and plans at local-governmental level, on and off, about demolishing
this modern building and replacing it with a replica of the old theatre; in contrast,
the Ionian Academy has been rebuilt to its former glory by the Ionian University.