Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Sisi and the Achilleon at Corfu

Inside the Achilleon

She never really took to court life. She was drawn to literature, she liked reading, open windows, evening light. Walking and horse-riding. Her horses, she loved them. Revered Achilles, that marvel of a man. Possibly she doted on her husband too or at least looked up to him, believed in his romantic feelings, matching her own, but royal matches were never simply about feelings or solely about feelings or about feelings for a sole person. It did not take long for her to see his failings, which could not be hidden by his emperor's clothes, his finery. For he was an Emperor, of Austria.

She – a democrat before her time – wanted equality for the Hungarian people. They loved her for that. She pushed for the restoration of the Hungarian constitution, and the dual monarchy, Austria-Hungary. She became Empress Elizabeth, affectionately known as Sisi, at the age of 16, when she married Franz Joseph. But spent more and more time with her books, while her husband pursued his ruling duties – and other affairs. She took to travelling.

In Budapest they named a district after her, Erzebetvaros.

She had a palace built in Corfu, overlooking a bay of green water. The grounds were studded with pine trees. A statue of Achilles on a high plinth, has his back turned to the trimmed rose bush planted gardens, with archways shaded by vine leaves. He gazes out, over the sea. She called the museum the Achilleon. Huge pastoral paintings hang on the walls. Porcelain bowls painted with rose and blue patterns. Echoing empty rooms.

She had it built as a refuge, after the death of her only son, Prince Rudolf, but she did not enjoy it for long. Refuges can often be scarred places, inhabited by the very memories or feelings one is trying to evade. And so Elizabeth had to keep moving, so as not to be gripped by sadness, her life's disappointments, the shedding of dreams, filling days with departures and shifting scenery, setting foot on new shores.

Geneva's lake shore was the last one she knew. She was due to leave in the morning for Montreux. But one Luigi Lucheni had planned to assassinate the prince of Orléans. When the prince failed to put in an appearance at Geneva and, having learned of Elizabeth's presence there, the frustrated would-be assassin of royalty turned his sharp knife on Elizabeth, the least royalist of any royal. One of these strange conjunctions of time, place and circumstances that feels both entirely misplaced yet oddly fated.

You can read more about Elisabeth here.

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