Discovering Corfu – Achilleion Palace and Sisi’s story.

When I read a biography of someone I wonder what this someone would think about what others have to say about them. Would they be surprised by the things said? Would they be pleased or annoyed? Would they agree or disagree? Is it even possible to paint an accurate picture of a person? To describe someone the way which would allow that person and the people surrounding her or him to agree on accuracy of the picture?

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Apparently Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie von Wittelsbach – Sisi – as a child was not in any way special or beautiful. She was very shy and conscious. She loved the place she grew up in – near the Lake Starnberg, and was a big fun of her father’s passions: circus, long walks and horse-riding. The century she lived in left a little or none space for independence for women. The most important things in life like marriage or what a women is going to do were decided by others, listening blindly to conventions and habits. The year 1853 robbed her out of a carefree childhood and her fate was sealed. That year, two days before his birthday, on 16 August, Emperor Franz Joseph completely ignored Sisi’s mother Ludovika and her aunt Sophie plans and fell in love with the wrong sister. The wedding took place on 24 April 1854 and Sisi became Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia.

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Asking if young Elisabeth was happy is in a way pointless. She could not have been, surrounded by people loyal to Franz Joseph’s mother, who never loved her. Unfortunate death of Elisabeth’s first daughter helped her mother in law build an unjust picture of Sisi as an unfit and irresponsible mother. When Prince Rudolf was born, it looked like her duties were fulfilled and she was no longer needed.

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The care over her children was never in her hands. Her health declined and after giving birth to Rudolf, she could safely start looking after herself and be away from Vienna. From the court she truly hated.

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Declared unfit as a mother by Sophie, she needed to take a serious action against an extensive military training Prince Rudolf was undertaking. Sisi, as a mother, needed simply save her son from harm. The Empress wrote to her husband presenting Emperor with an ultimatum – she will leave him or she will be in charge of her children education and upbringing completely. Unfaithful Emperor agreed. Even though she achieved what she wanted, her love for Rudolf and Gisela was far from deep. She did not really pay any attention to them, keeping all her love for the last daughter – Marie Valerie.

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From a shy and delicate, not so pretty child, Elisabeth grew into a beautiful women. Her beauty regime was extensive and time consuming. She had a long hair – length between her knees and ankles, and it took about three hours per day just to dress them. She subjected herself to strict diet regimes and was bathing in olive oil. The only thing she could not change were her yellow teeth – she was always carrying a handkerchief and was covering her mouth when speaking or smiling. As her voice was naturally quiet, this manner made her often impossible to understand.

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Even though she was not close with Rudolf, his suicide broke her. In order for Rudolf to receive a church funeral, he must have been declared insane. The Empress believed that Rudolf inherited health issues from her and she started to believe that such manifestation will soon show in her too.

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A year later, in 1890 she builds a summer palace – Achilleion. She was visiting Corfu and decided that Petros Vrailas Armenis villa would be an ideal place to build her summer residency. Italian architect Raffaele Caritto designed and built it. The incredible sculpture of Dying Achilles, created in Berlin by Ernst Herter, sits now in the centre of the Achilleion Gardens.

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The name of the palace refers to Achilles and a lot of references to this Greek god can be found around.  There are paintings and statues of Achilles, introducing the Trojan War myth.

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She travelled more and more, spending just few weeks each year in Vienna. On September 10, on her way from hotel in Geneva to the ship on which she was leaving for Montreux, Elizabeth was attacked and assassinated by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni. Even though they both shared the same view on aristocracy, he did not care and killed her, instead of Prince of Orleans, who did not show up.

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At first no one noticed what has happen. Sisi made to the ship and fainted. When her companion tried to loosen her bodice, she noticed blood and a hole in her camisole. Rushed back to the hotel she died as it was too late for the doctors to help. All what is left now is her amazing summer Corfu residency and life story featured in a few movies – not bad as for a women living in a difficult and unloving environment.

Practicalities

The Achillion is around 10 km out of town in the village of Gastouri. If you travel by car you will see the sign showing how to get there. There is a plenty room to park too. And many hotels do organize tours too, as this is a very popular destination.

Opening hours and tickets prices:

We have paid 7 euros per person, but managed to get a discount of 2 euros for our mum 🙂 

Opening hours: 08:00-19:00. Saturday, Sunday. 08:00-14.30.

 

 

Achilleion

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