Achilleion Palace! Myth, imperial luxury and plain natural beauty! The imperial villa of the sad Empress “Sissy” is the emblem of a whole era.
Entering the yard, in front of the imposing building and the garden with several statues, close your eyes and imagine the view of Elisabeth Empress of Austria (known as Sissy), when she first came to this place, in the summer of 1861.
On the slope of a green hill, with stunning views over the Chalikiopoulos lagoon, Kanoni, Pontikonissi and mount Pantokratoras, the estate around the Achilleion offers a unique sense of peace– even in the summer, when it is overwhelmed by visitors. This is the peace that sought the empress when, the suffering from depression, she visited again her beloved island in 1889 and bought the area from the scholar and politician Petros Vrailas – Armenis.
Here she withdrew from her former cosmopolitan lifestyle, to build a villa which pointed out her love for the ancient Greek intellect. Pillars, balconies, gables, statues and frescoes make up an imposing image, in a Pompeian mansion, designed by the Italian architects Raphael Caritto and Antonio Landi, in impressive gardens orned with masterpieces either ordered or brought from the Borghese villa in Rome. Until her assassination in 1898 in Vienna, by an Italian anarchist, the Greek-lover empress, would spend several summers here, learning Greek and reading Goethe, Shakespeare and Homer.
Achilleion Palace was devoted to Achilles, the hero who represented to the empress the Greek soul and beauty of the locals. Entering the palace, all eyes are impressed by the wonderful roof fresco, by the Italian painter Galoppi, which symbolically depicts the Four Seasons and the Horae. In the background, a majestic marble staircase (to the first floor, which cannot be visited, for the time being), with statues of Zeus and Hera at the bottom – is another distinctive item of the wealth and profusion of the palace.
The fireplace by black Italian marble with the small statues of Athena and Hebe and the dorated clock, the portrait of Elisabeth and the « chapel » with the icon of the Virgin Mary, where the empress used to pray, are but a few of the highlights of the main hall.
Still, at the ground floor, we enter a room devoted to the next owner of the Achilleion, emperor (Keizer) of Germany William II, who bought it in 1908 and spend his holidays here until 1914. In the room of the Keizer, we can still see the emperor’s office, his chair, at the shape of a saddle and the porcelain fireplace, as well as several documents, medals, portraits and photographs.
At the yard, gods and heroes continue to accompany us as we go up the small staircase with the marble statues of Apollo, Hermes, Artemis and Aphrodite, which leads to the Muses’ Peristyle (at the back of the palace, outdoors, first floor). A set of Ionic pillars, painted in bright colours, creates a small arch. At the end of the Muses’ Peristyle, you will meet a crowd of people trying to see, through the glass window, the famous oil painting of the Austrian Frantz Mats “Achilles’ Triumph” or “Triumphant Achilles” (entrance to the hall is prohibited). The huge painting (4Χ10m), overtaking an entire wall, is considered to be the most artistically important art piece of the Achilleion.
Going down the stairs from the Muses’ Peristyle, we see two of the most famous statues of the palace, representations of Achilles, which dominate in the garden: the lyrical marble “Dying Achilles” by Ernst Gustav Herter (Sissy’s favourite statue and the emblem of the Achilleion) and the bronze “Victorious Achilles” by Goetz, installed by Wilhelm II. It’s up to you to decide which statue you like best and move to the edge of the garden, where romantic couples take photos with the Pontikonissi in the background.
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