1 Best Sight in The Achilleion and Gastouri, Corfu


This Teutonic palace, built in the late 19th century for Empress Elizabeth of Austria, is perhaps the most popular tourist attraction in Corfu and remains a monument of 19th-century historicism. The empress used the place as a retreat to escape court life and to ease her heartbreak over husband Franz Josef's numerous affairs and her son Archduke Rudolph's mysterious murder or suicide at Mayerling in 1889. Elizabeth named the palace after her favorite hero, Achilles, whom she inexplicably identified with Rudolph. After Elizabeth was assassinated in 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm II bought the villa and lived in it until the outbreak of World War I, during which time the Achilleion was used by French and Serbian troops as a military hospital. After the armistice, the Greek government received it as a spoil of war. During World War II, it was appropriated and used as a headquarters by the occupying Italian and German forces. In 1962 the palace was restored, leased as a gambling casino, and later used as the set for the casino scene in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. (The casino has since moved to the Corfu Palace Hotel.)

Today it's a museum, but not a terribly inspiring one. The interior is a series of rather ungainly, uninteresting rooms done in various styles (a pseudo-Byzantine chapel, a pseudo-Pompeian room, a pseudo-Renaissance dining hall), with a smattering of period furniture scattered about; the vulgar fresco called Achilles in His Chariot, behind a window on the upper level, tells you all you need to know about the empress's taste in pseudo-classical art. More appealing is the terrace, laid out like an Ionic peristyle with a number of 19th-century statues, the best of which is The Dying Achilles. The gardens, surrounded by olive groves and with a distant view of the sea, are pretty but, all in all, the whole place looks a bit vacuous and forlorn. Still and all, lovers of period style won't want to miss this.

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