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Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Achilleon, Corfu: Sisi's Vision

"Doch kehr’ ich heim in deine Buchten,
Wenn mir des Lebens Sturm missfällt.
Was ich and meine Mőven suchten,
Hier find’ ich’s – Ruhe vor der Welt".

from Abschied und Rűckfahrt,
Kaiserin Elisabeth

The Triumphant Achilles, the vision of Wilhelm II?

The Dying Achilles

Postcard above: Postmark 5 February 1919


For over forty years I avoided the Achilleon, with its coach-loads of tourists flocking to see Sisi's over-the-top concoction of late romantic excess and self-indulgent kitsch, but this time her poetic and Philhellenic vision began to make some sense, I could appreciate the artistry and skilled workmanship - and at least she valued and respected the natural environment- she wasn't responsible for destroying it, she (naively, perhaps) tried to enhance and worship it:

"But I return home to your bays if life's storm displeases me. I find it here, what I and my seagulls seek- Peace, well away from the world".

(Abschied und Ruckfahrt, 15 November, 1887)

Sisi missed the island, her vision of the Garden of Eden, and the Ionian Sea, with a fierce nostalgia when away.

In Sehnsucht nach Corfu (October 1887), she yearns "for the cypress trees that stand high on the grey rocks, from which, gravely and forgotten by the world, they look dreamily towards Albania...I wish I could go walking and reflect once more in the aromatic orange grove, as I used to do once upon a time, all alone with my solitary dreams."

In "Meeresfahrt" (October 1888), she sighs that "Longing will eat one's heart out, it robs one of peace of mind and happiness, and night and day you will dream and think back to the blue seas of the Ionian."

Henry Miller, for one, was not impressed by Sisi's vision or by the building. I have to admit that, on this occasion, I was less cynical and I found many of the architectural and decorative details quite intriguing. The fact that the Achilleon  had been used as a casino when I first visited may have influenced me. Its association with Kaiser Wilhelm II, and its later use as the HQ of the Italian and German occupation forces during World War II did not add to its appeal.

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