The Achilleion Palace was built by Empress of Austria Elisabeth of Bavaria, also known as Sisi. Elisabeth was a woman obsessed with beauty. She had a very powerful, but tragically vulnerable character since the loss of her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria 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 central theme of the palace is the mythical hero Achilles. Elisabeth spoke fluent Greek and 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. Elisabeth was given the property by Corfiot Petros Vrailas Armenis who was rewarded by Elisabeth with a large diamond-encrusted brooch to be passed down to the wife of the eldest son.
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 Gardens. The palace surrounded with classic Greek statues 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 with the Ionian sea gleaming in the background. Elisabeth used to visit the place often until 1898 when she was assassinated in Geneva by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni.
The stunning appearance of this stately palace takes the visitor back in history to when the palace was inhabited by two great figures from European history whose only common bond was their adoration for Corfu, Greece and its culture, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (known as ‘Sissi’) and Kaiser William II of Germany.
Empress Elisabeth built the palace to escape the tragedies of her life, and William II purchased it after her untimely death. William II, however, never had a chance to enjoy the palace’s beauty because of a war that broke out, from his own doing.
During the First and Second World War the palace was abandoned and inevitably pillaged by the enemy. After years of rebuilding and restoration, the palace was finally restored to its former beauty.