Princess Sisι’s Palace
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 Homer’s 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.