She was born in Munich on the 24th of December 1837. Her father was a great admirer of Greek culture and ancient Greek mythology and she was brought up with them. Elizabeth married Franz Joseph I and became the Empress of Austria. A peculiar fact is that, actually, he had already had a pre-arranged marriage but when he met her for the first time, he felt in love and they got married in 1853. Soon after the marriage their daughters (Sophie and Gisela) were born.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s mother-in-law was always an obstacle in their family life. In order to strengthen her marriage, young Sissi (as she was often nicknamed) decided to follow her husband on his trip to Budapest and she took her little kids with them. That same trip proved tragic because both of the children got ill with diarrhea and Sophie died. Sissi was blamed of her child’s death by Franz’ mother and fell into depression. Another reason for Elizabeth’s depressive mood was the number of gossips about her husband’s extramarital relationship.
Her misfortunate continued. She ate a little and did sports a lot. She slept badly. All this caused her a serious disease. But the greatest drama in her life was her son’s death. Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria was found dead with his mistress – Baroness Mary Vetsera and actually, the pieces of evidence lead to a murder-suicide (The Mayerling Incident of 1889). Since then Sissi’s grief whad been getting greater and greater. She started wearing only black clothes which were part of her till her end. At that moment of great grief, she remembered the little village of Gastouri on the Island of the Nymphs which she had visited before. She went there, bought the terrain and commissioned the building of a palace. She got the splendid palace built to grieve at peace. That’s why instead of paradise it turned into hell for her. It was painted in dark colours corresponding to her mood and in unison with her bleeding soul. The central theme of the palace was the mythical hero Achilles and it was called the Achilleion Palace. A statue of the Achilles Dying was placed in the central parts of the palace, i.e. in the beautiful garden. The Homeric hero was depicted on a high pedestal at the moment when he was mortally wounded.
Empress Elizabeth also furnished the palace inside. She adjusted a desk for her husband who never visited Corfù and the Palace, in particular. Her bed, books and other belongings have been on display up to now. If you visit the palace you will also see her gigantic mirrors. One of them is really notable and is related to Elizabeth’s death. Having withdrawn from court duties Empress Sissi travelled widely. Before one of her trips (actually, her last one) she noticed that it had got broken. Then she told herself that it was a sign and she would never come back there again. And really she never returned to Corfù because she was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898. While waiting to board the ship on her way from Geneva to Montreux, Luigi Lucheni handed a bunch of flowers to her but at the same time he penetrated her with a sharp needle file.
After her death the palace was sold to Kaiser Wilhelm II from Germany in 1907 who turned it into a true vivid summer residence. The central theme Achilles remained the same. A marble statue this time to the Triumphant Achilles replaced the previous one. The Homeric hero was looking skyward (as if he was looking for help from the Gods from the Olympus) and to northward, towards the city (expressing the mighty of the Kaiser). The edge of his spear was golden and could be seen from the city which was again an expression of power. The inscription in Greek placed – ΑΧΙΛΛΕΥΣ (i.e. Achilles) has still been there. On the other hand, there has been a wall painting depicting the hero on his racing chariot, that has still been at the huge staircase in the main hall. By the way, speaking about the symbols of the palace, its main symbol is a dolphin with a crown.
Having entered into possession of the palace Kaiser Wilhelm II redecorated it by substituting the dark colours for brighter ones (at least this was his summer residence). He also left a landmark on the highway – the “Kaiser’s bridge“. He commissioned it because he wanted an easy access to the beach without having to traverse the road. Part of the bridge was, unfortunately, demolished by Wehrmacht in 1944.
During the World War II the Achilleion Palace was used as a hospital and later it was turned into a casino. After that the palace became a casino and then the tourist organization of Corfù bought it and turned into a museum attracting thousands of tourists annually.
If you happen to visit the island one day (which I wish you sincerely 🙂 ) don’t ever miss ever to spend several hours at the Achilleion Palace where time will stop for you in the ancient Greek times. You will get acquainted with the life of beautiful and sensitive Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Apart from this, you will get to know interesting things about Kaiser Wilhelm II who had a defect on his hand and that’s why you will see him with a hand behind his back or in a glove (after all, he was a powerful man and didn’t have show any defects).