Home Travel BlogEurope Travel BlogGreece Travel Blog Achilleion Palace, a tragically beautiful place

Achilleion Palace, a tragically beautiful place

by Silke Elzner

The Achilleion Palace in Corfu, Greece is one of the best places to visit on the island. Summer house of one of Europe’s grandest and most beautiful monarchs, it has seen plenty plenty of passion and sorrow in its days.

Once upon a time there was a royal lady who was terribly unhappy with her existence in the so-called golden cage.

Her life was filled with vanity and insecurities, and she lived most of her life separated from her husband. She liked to travel, you could call her one of the first members of the European jet-set. She was said to be beautiful – not just thin but also trim, with endless long hair and a fair complexion.

She died far too young, a victim of an assassination gone wrong.

Sisi, the Tragic Empress of Austria-Hungary

Do you know who I am talking about? It’s the life of the beautiful but tragic Empress of Austria-Hungary, Elisabeth I. An attractive Bavarian princess who was married into the strict and rigid Austrian court to be companion to Emperor Franz-Joseph I of Habsburg. She was only 16 when her life changed forever.

Snatched away from the meadows and the Bavarian Alps of her childhood and cut off almost completely from her close-knit family, the liberal Sisi struggled with the demands of one of the mightiest European royal families. She was said to be bulimic and obsessed with her body image. Her maids that combed her hair every day for hours had to hide any shed hairs under the aprons to avoid yet another outburst from their Empress.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary

Achilleion Palace in Corfu, Sisi’s Escape From Royal Duties

Unhappy in the royal residence city of Vienna, Elisabeth tried to escape the pressures of court life and the scrutiny of not just the other noble ladies but also of her mother-in-law as many times as possible. One of the first true travellers of her time, she visited the most spectacular places around the Mediterranean to calm her soul. One trip would eventually take her to the Greek island of Corfu – an island of ancient olive tree groves, tall cypress trees, deep blue bays, secluded beaches and lots of sunshine.

Elisabeth built here in Corfu the Achilleion, her own private palace, surrounded by a stunning Mediterranean garden with sweeping views and stunning classical sculptures. Inside, the palace was filled with a collection of pieces that relate to Greek mythology and history. The name of the building itself, Achilleion, is a reference to Achilles, the Greek hero of the Iliad and the Troian War, for whom Elisabeth seemed to have had a soft spot.

The Achilleion was completed in 1891, probably as refuge from tormenting memories after the death of her beloved son, prince to the crown, Prince Rudolf. Sadly, Elisabeth could enjoy the beauty and serenity of the palace only for a couple of years: in 1898, on a trip to Geneva, she was killed with a sharp object by Anarchist Luigi Lucheni. Tragically, the assassination of Elisabeth was a result in a change of plans – originally Lucheni had planned to kill another member of royalty, but his victim had unexpectedly changed his travel plans.

Our Favourite Things to see at the Achilleion Palace

The Achilleion Palace is today open to visitors, and highlights include the statue of Elisabeth right by the entrance, the beautiful staircases, the life-size mirrors, the muses statues in the garden as well as the breathtaking views from the terrace. There is also a fascinating collection of Elisabeth’s personal belongings, her jewellery and family photographs.

Elisabeth was a well educated woman and the pieces she personally selected are not just beautiful to look at, they are also reflective of her interests in mythology, philosophy and the arts. For example, have a closer look at the 13 philosophers’ busts that grace the peristyle of the building, and the enormous statue of the Dying Achilles who, fatally wounded, is pulling the spear out of his heel.

You can find more info about the Achilleion Palace on the official website.

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The Byzantine Monastery of the Virgin in Corfu, Greece

A muse

Terrace with views

Busts of philosophers

Staircase inside the palace

Classic Greek statue

Muse statue

Muses in the garden of the Achillieon

Muses

Garden of the Achilleon

Archway

Garden

Dying Achilles

Detail of staircase

Animal reliefs

Life-sized mirror

Views from the terrace

A triumphant Achilles

Baroque angels

Jewellery of the Empress

Bits and pieces of the household

Portrait of Elisabeth

Museum

Decorated ceiling

Main staircase

Inside the chapel

Detail of the Achilleon