The beautiful Achilleion(Achillion) Palace sits 10 km south of the city of Corfu and three km north of the village of Benitses on the edge of Gastouri village.
It was built in 1890 by Empress Elizabeth of Austria in a property originally owned by the philosopher and diplomat Petros Vrailas Armenis and replaced the former “Villa Vraila”.
Queen Elizabeth became known as the sad queen Sisi.
She was the younger daughter of the Duke of Bavaria, and the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, was told by his mother to marry her elder sister, but he fell in love with her instead.
Elizabeth felt stifled by the very strict protocol, dominating mother in law, and the regimented life in Vienna, and appears to have suffered minor breakdowns and depression frequently.
She traveled extensively for her health, and this became almost manic following the suicide of her son Rudolf, who shot himself and his mistress in a suicide pact at a hunting lodge called Mayerling.
Coming to Corfu she fell in love with the estate of the diplomat and philosopher Petros Vrailas -Armenis, and he gave it to her.
She then demolished the simple house and built the Achilleion Palace.
She was well known in the vicinity, and much loved as she had a well dug in lower Gastouri which saved the women walking long distances to get good water.
Once the palace was finished however she lost interest in it somewhat and came less frequently to the island.
On a visit to Geneva, she was assassinated by an Italian, who later said that he had gone to Geneva to kill a sovereign, and did not mind which one he killed, as long as he succeeded!
Elizabeth was an exceptionally beautiful woman and a skillful rider.
She was almost certainly anorexic, as she dieted maniacally, and never weighed more than 50 kilos.
She and her husband ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire, but whereas the Hungarians hated the Austrian rulers they loved Elizabeth, who also loved Budapest where she could escape from the rituals of Vienna.
To this day Hungarians talk fondly of her, and they, and also German-speaking visitors, especially enjoy visiting the palace this sad woman created on a Greek island.
The decoration of Achilleion was supervised by Elizabeth herself and reflects her admiration and love for Classical Greece, both interior and exterior are decorated with statues of ancient philosophers, heroes, and mythical ancient gods.
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