In Corfu we visited the Achilleion at Gastouri, in between Perama and Benitses, which is a casino and a museum now but was once a summer Palace built in 1890 by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria who was a curious woman obsessed with the classical Homeric hero Achilles and with all things beautiful (including herself apparently).
It was also used as a location in the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’ as were several other places on Corfu including Kalami Bay where we were staying this time.
The Palace, with the neoclassical Greek statues that surround it, is a monument to platonic romanticism and escapism and is filled with paintings and statues of Achilles, both in the main hall and in the gardens, depicting the scenes of the Trojan War.
The dazzling white Palace has a wedding cake like appearance and the beautiful Imperial gardens on the hill look over the surrounding green hill crests and valleys and the azure blue Ionian Sea.
The centre piece of the gardens is a marble statue on a high pedestal, of the mortally wounded Achilles wearing only a simple cloth and an ancient Greek hoplite helmet. This statue was created by German sculptor Ernst Gustav Herter and the hero is presented devoid of rank or status, and seems notably human though heroic, as he is forever trying to pull the arrow shot by Paris from his heel. His classically depicted face is full of pain and he gazes skyward, as if to seek help from the Gods on Olympus.
In contrast, at the great staircase in the main hall is a giant painting of the triumphant Achilles full of pride. Dressed in full royal military regalia and erect on his racing chariot, he pulls the lifeless body of Hector of Troy in front of the stunned crowd watching helplessly from inside the walls of the Trojan citadel.
In 1898 at the age of sixty the Empress was assassinated when she was stabbed by a lunatic anarchist whilst walking in a park in Geneva, Switzerland. After her death the palace was sold to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II who also liked to take summer holidays on Corfu and later it was acquired by the Greek State who converted it into a museum.
It is a beautiful place with grand sweeping gardens befitting royal ownership and we enjoyed the visit and even went back later to see the sunset from the Kaiser’s chair, which is an area at the highest point in the gardens where Wilhelm would go in the evening to enjoy the end of the day.