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Cruising the Mediterranean, Day 6: Corfu

October 15th, 2019 · No Comments · Austria, tourism, Travel

This was a city that mattered almost 3,000 years ago, a stepping stone from Greece to Italy. Unfortunately for Corfu, armies seeking to get across the final miles of the Adriatic Sea … aren’t as common as they were in the days of the Greeks and Romans.

Corfu at times made me think of the more battered parts of Los Angeles, from rusting cars parked in junk yards right on through the smog that cast a pall over the horizon.

We went ashore at our only Greek port of call on this cruise and decided, for lack of anything else particularly compelling, to take a cab up the mountain behind Corfu town to a museum dedicated to Achilles, one of the heroes of Homer’s Iliad.

The Achilleion, as it is rendered from Greek to English, at least has an interesting back story.

It starts with the glamorous Empress Elisabeth, taken as a wife in 1854 by Franz Josef, top man in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which at the time was a major player in European politics.

The Austrians through some confusing historical stuff took control of Corfu Island about the time Elisabeth became queen, at age 16.

As the story goes, she was not as fond of her husband as he was of her, and she struggled to adapt to court life or deal with having four children in a compressed time frame.

Which led to her taking on projects, and one of the was building a retreat on Corfu in which she could honor the memory of Achilles.

Franz Josef probably was happy to see her get involved in a project, and she brought in several well-known artisans to design and build the big, airy house that sits atop a hill above Corfu.

She decorated the place with busts of dozens of Greek philosophers and the nine muses and the three graces.

The piece de resistance were two enormous statues of Achilles — one of him standing tall with a long spear and full armor, and the second, a few feet away, depicting Achilles dying after his heel — the only part of him that was not impervious to injury — was struck by an arrow outside the gates of Troy.

So, years go by, Elisabeth visits often, then decided she no longer is all that interested, and moves on to other things.

Keep in mind Elisabeth was a sort of Lady Diana of her time — a huge celebrity in central Europe.

She often was on the move and in 1898 she turned up in Geneva, in Switzerland.

The late 19th century was a time with more than a few assassinations of royals, and she reportedly was warned not to go to Geneva, but she did, and crossed paths with an anarchist idiot who was looking for a royal to kill, and he settled on Elisabeth, stabbing her in the chest as she approached a ship that would take her across Lake Geneva.

She was dead within the hour.

Read about it in depth here.

So, the tribute to Achilles … interesting but no Doge’s Palace, to name one tourist hotspot here on the Adriatic.

However, the woman who built the Achilleion, and her life struggles and death at the age of 60 at the hands of an assassin … that is interesting stuff.

(Oh, and her only son died in what apparently was a suicide pact, in 1889. And the Achilleion was later purchased by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who helped start World War I.)

Think of what modern media would have done with all that.

If Corfu has a story that beats that one, I would be up for it.


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