Royal courts and wealthy classes tend to intrigue, luring us in with glimpses of lavish lifestyles and translated wealth by making public their estates. Still, many of these mansions and palaces and residences are architectural delights in their own right. Their residents, past or present, are more like fillings of an already tasty cake.
Eager to visit more of Corfu’s historical landmarks, I travelled a short distance out from Corfu Town to the palace inspired by ancient Greek mythology. Achilleion Palace, more commonly stylized as Achillion Palace, is an elegant, stately gem.
Commissioned in 1890 by the Empress of Austria, Elisabeth of Bavaria or Empress Sisi, its construction is a tribute to her favorite mythical hero. An avid believer of ancient stories, she dedicated the palace to Achilles, whose triumphant image is panted on the walls of the property. In likeness to the ancient palaces of old, classical Greecian features characterize this heritage site, from its angular design, column pillars and clean white coat.
Its grand but private design carries over to the adjoining gardens, marble titles leading into trimmed lawns, green-wrapped terraces and panoramic view over the Ionian Sea. The Achilles motif is scattered around the grounds, sculptures depicting scenes from the Trojan War in equal heroic and tragic imitation.
Contrasting the serene beauty of Achillion Palace, the story of its conception is actually born out of tragedy. Devastated by the loss of her son, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, the Empress needed an escape. Building a summer palace on her favorite vacation island was her way of coping with loss. The only visitors she received during her residence were her two daughters and their immediate families.
The palace was later passed around for various purposes. German Kaiser Wilhelm II bought the place off Empress Sisi’s daughter in early 1900s, becoming both a summer home and mansion of diplomacy. World War I brought the fight to its doorstep, transforming this place of respite into one of healing; it was a military hospital for French and Serbian troops until it was given to the Greek state as reparations in 1919. After a brief stint as an orphanage then military headquarters during World War II, Achillion Palace fluctuates between a museum and center for European diplomacy.
I spent a good hour or two slowly traversing its interior. Well-maintained, the marbled flooring, priceless paintings and intricate gold stylings will keep your eyes well occupied. I definitely recommend picking up an audio guide for more historical context, as some items may seem out of place. Some rooms are emptier than others, but those with exhibition items make it worth the trip. You do need your ID or passport to get an audio guide, so make sure to keep that on you!
Personally, the gardens are my favorite part of the property. Statues aside, the layout provides ample sun and shade, and leafy tendrils cast a mystical ambiance when paired against solid trees. If you’re looking for beauty and history, Achillion Palace is a must.
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