It was built by the enigmatic, slightly eccentric and intriguing Empress Elizabeth of Austria, also known as Sisy who was married to the Emperor of Austria at the time, Franz Joseph 1. In a story that reads like a real life Greek tragedy which ends in her, rather random, assignation at the age of 61, poor Sisy was undermined by her mother in law, who took her children away from her at birth, and made to feel inadequate for not producing an heir to the throne. Never a particularly outgoing person, her shyness increased to painful levels, affecting her health and eating habits to the point she became extremely unwell. Hating the strict regimes of court life, suffering from mental breakdowns and depressions she took to travelling extensively for her health. Each time she returned to court she became rapidly and noticeably ill again.
But the central theme of the palace is the mythical hero Achilles who Sisy felt represented the spirit and soul of the local Greek people. Elisabeth spoke fluent Greek and expressed a desire to further immerse herself in the Greek culture.
The palace was designed by Italian architect Raffaele Caritto and Ernst Herter, a famous German sculptor, was commissioned to create works inspired from Greek mythology. His famous sculpture Dying Achilles, created in Berlin in 1884, forms the centre piece of the Achilleion Gardens. The palace, surrounded with classic Greek statues is a monument to romanticism as well as escapism and was, naturally, named after Achilles. It abounds with paintings and statues of Achilles, both in the main hall and in the lavish gardens depicting the heroic and tragic scenes of the Trojan War.
Elizabeth herself oversaw the entire decoration of the palace and it reflects her admiration and love for Classical Greece. Inside the palace and the beautifully kept surrounding gardens are decorated with statues of ancient philosophers, heroes and mythical ancient gods.
Empress Elisabeth built the palace to escape the tragedies of her life, and William II purchased it after her untimely death because he wanted to holiday there. However, he never had a chance to enjoy the palace’s beauty because of a war that broke out, from his own doing.
The Achillieon Palace has been a military hospital in WW1, an orphanage, a military headquarters in WW2, after which it came under the management of The Hellenic Tourist Organisation which leased it out in 1962 to a private company that turned the top floor into a casino. The casino scene of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981) was filmed at the Achilleion.