The Achilleion on Corfu – Elisabeth’s enthusiasm for antiquity

Sisi's amazing Journey - Österreichs legendäre Kaiserin Sisi

What was the name of Empress Elisabeth’s favorite island? When was the Achilleion built and who was originally supposed to build it? What is it for nowadays?

Elizabeth’s love for Greece was expressed in the construction of the Achilleion . Between 1889 and 1891 she had her Greek castle – the Achilleion – built on her favorite island of Corfu . Named after the Greek hero Achilles , whom she greatly admired for his strength.

Actually, Theophil Hansen , the famous ring road architect, should build the palace on Corfu. Ultimately she settled on Raffaele Cariot of Naples , who completed the designs by 1889. The marble sculpture Achilles as a dying hero created by Ernst Herter in the palace gardens. Busts of Heine, Shakespeare and Homer also adorn the garden.

An Austrian artist was allowed to participate. Franz Matsch, an artist colleague of Gustav Klimt, designed a fresco on the upper floor of the stairwell. Again it is Achilles, this time standing victorious on the chariot, dragging the defeated Hector to the gates of Troy.

This was an enormous financial burden, funded from the Emperor’s private purse. Sisi even considered emigrating to Greece entirely, which met with little understanding from Franz Joseph. He never visited her in Corfu as he didn’t like boat trips. But Sisi liked to go to Corfu often. Once they visited their two daughters Gisela and Marie-Valerie there.

Sisi had a great fondness for Greek antiquity and even learned ancient Greek . She had enough time during the hour-long haircut in the morning. The Greek teachers sat across from her and prepared her for Greece. Antiquity came back into fashion at the end of the 19th century thanks to the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann , the discoverer of Troy, who published a great deal about the old archaeological sites.

Sisi soon lost interest in the Achilleion and wanted to sell it, which Franz Joseph was able to prevent. It was inherited by daughter Gisela , who sold it to German Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1907. He had it completely renovated and converted it into a 40-room palace and used it for diplomatic purposes.

A victorious Achilles was placed in the place of the dying, and the castle’s formerly private use became public. The castle’s garden is huge and stretches over a hill between Corfu Town and Morajitika.

During World War I , the Serbian and French armies used the building as a military hospital, after which it became Greek property under the Versailles treaties. During the Second World War , Corfu was occupied by Italian troops from 1941 and later served as the headquarters of the German occupying forces.

After the war it came back into the hands of Greece, which initially used it as a kindergarten. A private company leased it in 1962 and converted it into a museum and casino. In 1983 it was returned to the Greek state and even hosted the 1994 EU summit. Nowadays the Achilleion attracts tourists and especially Sisi fans from all over the world.

Achilleion Castle, Corfu Achilleion Temple, Corfu

Tip from Sisi’s Amazing Journey: If you are on holiday in Corfu, visit the Achilleion and walk in the footsteps of Sisi and her ancient heroes. Even if it’s not the same as in Sisi’s time, it’s still exciting to go back to that time.

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