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Corfu Achilleion Palace monument

- by Andy Cornish

Thousand of holiday visitors to Corfu take time off from the island's golden sand beaches to visit one of the many museums and historic sites.

And high on the list for any visitor to Corfu is the impressive Achilleion Palace, also called Sissi's Palace which lies 12 kilometres south of Corfu Town in the village of Gastouri.

Now Greek officials have granted 'monument' status to the many artefacts, such as sculptures and furniture, that grace the extensive gardens and rooms at the historic site.

Built in 1890 for Elizabeth (Sissi), the Empress of Austria, Achilleion Palace became her summer retreat with manicured gardens and picturesque views over the Ionian sea.

The palace grounds were designed on the theme of the mythical Greek hero Achilles and has become one of the island's top tourist attractions.

Many Achilleion artefacts have already been classed as monuments notably the 61 marble sculptures that are scattered around the gardens, the 50 paintings and engravings that hand on the walls of the various rooms and the bronze sculptures and carvings that can be seen in many of the rooms.

Now, Greece's Central Council of Modern Monuments has added a total of 45 items of furniture, eight mirrors and a even a pipe organ to the list.

The furniture comes from two periods in the palace's history. The first are the pieces commissioned by Empress Elizabeth during the late 19th century.

These include the palace library, which is adorned with embossed decorations and inlaid marquetry, a desk and a chair with embossed mythical creatures, a wardrobe and mirror featuring carved dolphins and several items of furniture from the palace chapel.

The other furniture comes from the later period when the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, lived at the palace. This includes oak furniture with white lacquer and bronze decorations as well as a desk with a swivel chair, a red marble dresser and a cast iron bedstead.

It was Kaiser Wilhelm who ordered the building of the distinctive Kaiser bridge, a stone jetty set in the cliffs below for berthing the royal yacht.

A hugely popular tourist attraction on Corfu, the palace recently underwent a major revamp to protect and restore all four of the main buildings: the palace museum, the Regiment building, the Baron's building and the Porter's building.

The palace fell into disrepair after the First World War when foreign troops stripped of many of its treasures but the building was eventually restored by the Greek government and many of its contents recovered.

The impressive palace, its gardens stuffed with neoclassical Greek statues and with very fine over the surrounding Corfu landscape and the Ionian sea have made it more than a major tourist attraction.

The palace also featured in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, shot there in 1981 and starring the British actor Roger Moore. Several scenes in the twelfth Bond spy film were shot in the Sissi Palace casino.

The palace gets very busy in the summer with thousands of tourists bussed in on special tours so visitors who prefer a quiet stroll through the palace and its gardens should arrive early to avoid the coach tour crowds.