In Corfu there are many places that are worth seeing and visiting when you’re holidaying on the island. A truly must-see place is Achillion Palace located only 10 km from Corfu Town in the little village of Gastouri. Gastouri is a small and extremely picturesque village that is traditional in its values, preservation, and history. If you stop at Gastouri on your way to Achillion Palace, then make sure you sample some of the local bread baked traditionally in wood burning ovens at the place called Hector’s Bakery. From this spot is a ravine once lined with pine trees leading you to the neighbouring hamlet of Pachalatika, this is where Sissy's spring is situated. They say that Sissy used to drink from this spring! It was here in Gastouri that the very first philharmonic orchestra was born in 1898…
Achillion Palace is a luxurious and beautiful villa and it was originally built for the Elisabeth von Wiltelsbach Empress of Austria or widely known as Princess Sissy. The palace shows Princess Sissy’s love for Greek mythology and it is called Achillion to honour the Greek hero Achilles.
The villa itself was built in 1892 by the Italian architect Raphael Carito. The Princess used the villa as a summer retreat until her assassination in 1898 while in Geneva. Remember that her assassination was later turned into a film in 1955 starring the famous actress of her time Romy Schneider?
It wasn’t until 1907 that the Achillion was bought by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. He used the palace as a place to go to unwind and relax.
Inside the Palace
As you enter the large reception hall you will see an abundance of interesting art works from various artists. These include four recesses created by the Italian painter Gallopi/Callopi and also a large painting by the Austrian painter Franz Matt that shows Achilles dragging the dead Hector behind his chariot, standing before the walls of Troy. But we will talk about this painting in detail later on our tour. Also in the reception area you will see the staircase with the bronze railings that lead to the upper floors of the palace. To the side of the impressive staircase are the statues of Zeus to the right and Hera to the left.
Make sure while you are in the reception area that you find Sissy’s portrait at the tender age of 21 to the left as you enter. This painting is actually a copy by Luis Jacobi; the original can be found in the Hofburg Palace and was painted by the German painter Winterhalter.
If you look above you to the ceiling in the reception area, you will see an amazing fresco which is called “The four Seasons”. See fall, winter, spring and summer all symbolized by the women with the grapes, the women by the fire, the children with the flowers and the angels with the shells respectively. The women dancing on the top of the painting are the Hours who are the daughters of Zeus.
The palace is neoclassical in its style and has a ground floor as well as two other storeys that are adorned with art work and statues. The columns that support the first floor balcony are in Doric style. On the balcony of the first floor there are 2 imposing marble centaurs while on the second floor balcony there are 4 Muses holding 4 torches. On the left side of this balcony you will also be able to see a bronze winged Hermes holding a proclamation. On the ground level floor there is a beautiful balcony with an Ionic peristyle decorated with busts of philosophers and statues of the nine Muses. On the middle floor are Elizabeth's rooms and on the upper floor are the rooms of the Emperor Franz Joseph and Duchess Maria Valeria. All of the rooms contain personal items of the former owners and the original furniture.
On the ground lever, floor there is to the right of the main entrance a catholic chapel. In the Chapel there are many ecclesiastical works of art. In the cupola you will find a wall painting depicting Jesus Christ and below that is a portrait of the Virgin Mary painted by Franz Matsch. Elisabeth actually used to refer to this painting as ‘The Star of the Sea’; she used it in reference to the tempest in which she was in danger on one of her many voyages.
In another room you will find personal articles of Princess Sissy; you will find treasured photographs of her and her family, an album of the Hapsburg family, paintings and photographs of the Achillion Palace back in that period. You will also find documents related to her assassination in Geneva.
In the next room personal items of Emperor Wilhelm II are on display. There you will have the opportunity to see photographs and paintings, a saddle he used, and a small model of his yacht and the flag of his ship.
On the left side of the entrance there is a room which now houses the Museum’s offices but was once the smoking room. There are also another 2 spaces hosting furniture and personal items from both Elisabeth and Wilhelm. The rooms of the furniture are the last rooms of the Achillion Museum. In the first area there is a desk and other furniture belonging to Princess Sissy, a bookcase and photographs of the German Kaiser and other officials. There is also a royal crown on display, various pieces of jewellery and copies of statues found in the Vatican Museum and in Naples. The second area hosts furniture from the Princesses’ bedroom including; wardrobes and mirrors, a desk and other items. Pay extra attention to the lovely painting by Ludwig Thiersch called “Odysseus and Nausica”.
Now let’s close the tour in the interior by taking some time to see the oil painting called “The Triumph of Achilles” painted by Franz Matsch that resides at the top of the staircase. This painting depicts the dragging of the dead Hector around the walls of Troy by the triumphant Achilles. The body of Hector despite having been pierced by the spears of the Greeks remained untouched because Apollo was protecting him. In the background, on the gates of Troy in the lintel you will see a swastika. The swastika is an ancient symbol with origins somewhere in the East and was amongst others also a symbol of Troy. Finally, while the whole painting seems to be in full motion the wheel of Achilles chariot appears to be motionless. Although some criticized the painter for this some others say that it was done this way on purpose…
Outside the Palace
The Achillion Palace overlooks Corfu town and the views are spectacular to say the least. In the Gardens there are statues to look at such as Hermes standing on a rock, the two bronze runners and“The Wounded Achilles” and “Achilles Triumphant” of course!
In the Gardens you enter passing through a staircase, on the top of which you will see the marble statues of Aphrodite, Artemis, Hermes and Apollo. The gardens of Achillion are full of marble and bronze statues most of which are actually copies of ancient works, but there are some original creations as well.
The most important statues to Elisabeth and the palace are in the gardens and they are the statues of “The Wounded Achilles” and “Achilles Triumphant”. The statue of “The Wounded Achilles” was treasured by Elisabeth, it was her favourite one! Created by the German sculptor Gustav Herter in 1884 it depicts Achilles right after he was struck at his heel by Paris’ bow. We see Achilles right at this very moment trying to pull the arrow from the wound.
Later on when Kaiser Wilhelm took over the Palace he ordered the removal of the ‘The Wounded Achilles’ statue and commissioned the creation of another statue, “Achilles Triumphant” made by Johann Gotzin. He ordered to be set in the place where ‘The Wounded Achilles’ was originally found. The bronze statue still stands at this place today. From an artistic point of view the statue is not considered a masterpiece but it certainly expresses the predominant spirit of Germany of that time. At the base of the statue today only stands the inscription “Achilles” in Greek as the original inscription ordered by Wilhelm was removed by the French during World War I. That inscription said in ancient Greek: “This statue of Achilles, son of Peleas, was erected here by Wilhelm of the powerful Germans so that he will be remembered by those who are to come”.
Achillion Palace is open every single day of the year from 9:00-15:30 during winter period and from 8:00-19:00 during summer period. Entrance cost 7 euro, normal price, 4 euro per person for groups more than 20 people, 5 euro those elder than 65 years, children from 6-13 years old pay 2 euro and teenagers from 13-18 years pay 5 euro. Contact telephone is 2661056210.
Blue buses leave from the San Rocco Square almost every 2 or 3 hours, check the timetable for sure and taxis would charge around 50 euro for driving and waiting you there till you finish the tour, but you are advised always to agree in advance the price with the taxi driver.