Next summer 99 years ago the German Princess Alice van Battenberg in the Mon Repos Palace in Corfu gave birth to her fifth child. After four girls she and her husband, Prince Andreas of Greece on June 10th 1921 welcomed a son, Philippos. By birth he was Prince of Greece and Denmark. From the balcony on the second floor of the small, but elegant palace, in his mother’s arms young Philippos will have seen the eternal blue of the Ionian Sea and the mountains of Epiros beyond. For two summers only. The Greek monarchy was young and there was revolution in the air.
On September 22, 1922, Philippos’ uncle, King Constantine I of Greece, was forced to abdicate the throne. The military government arrested Prince Andreas. In December Andreas was banned from Greece for life and settled with his family in Paris. In 1930 Philips’ mother was committed to a psychiatric institution, while his father relocated to Monaco, maintaining limited contact with his family. He died in Monaco in 1944, while Princess Alice spent most of the rest of her life in Athens.
From palace to palace Being educated in France, Germany and Scotland Philippos – now Philip – excelled in the Royal Naval College and served in the British Navy during World War II. Preparing for his marriage in 1947 with Princess Elizabeth he abandoned his Greek and Danish royal titles. On the morning of his wedding he was made Duke of Edinburgh. Five years later when Elizabeth succeeded her father King George VI, as Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Philip was a Prince once more. Quite a way to go from a revolution in Greece to the British throne, and from Mon Repos Palace in Corfu to Buckingham Palace in London. In 1967 Philip’s mother Alice came to stay in Buckingham Palace, where she would die two years later at the age of 84.
Mon Repos Palace Unlike Buckingham Palace Mon Repos Palace and its lovely park are easily accessible for the public. The palace, now housing a museum and rooms in use by the Corfu Municipality, was built in 1824-1826 to serve the British Lord High Commissioner Frederic Adams and his Corfiot wife Nina Palatianou. When the famous German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann visited Mon Repos in July 1868, it took him no time at all to identify the park and surroundings with the ancient city of Palaiopolis and the very spot of Mon Repos as the place where the mythical palace of Homer’s Phaeacians would have been.
There is no proof of Schliemann’s claim to this day, though in the park several ancient buildings have been uncovered, like the Temple of Hera, one of the earliest archaic temples in Greece (610 BC). Built on top of Analipsis Hill it must have created an impressive view for ships entering the harbour of ancient Corcyra. Last Summer and in the Summer of 2018 archaeological excavations have been conducted in the park. They yielded some interesting finds, but nothing spectacular. New excavations have been announced for 2020.
The Giallinas Mansion near the Esplanade in Corfu Town is saved from further deterioration and will be renovated over the next two years. A budget of over € 5 million has been approved for the reconstruction and restoration of the Venetian building, where the painter Angelos Giallinas lived and worked. Mayor Ydraiou announced last week the mansion will be “one of the most modern art and cultural venues” in town. She proudly added: “Corfu is slowly healing its open wounds, renovating its historical buildings and will become a major attraction.”
When the work is complete the building will be put to new use. The ground floor of the gallery will host educational and commercial activities and a restaurant. On the first floor there will be an exhibition of works by Angelos Giallinas, no less than 586 watercolours and oil paintings divided into 16 thematic units. The two rooms at the front, thanks to the wealth of decorations (ceiling paintings, ornate plasterwork etc.), will be a reconstruction of the Giallinas living room and studio with authentic furniture.
The tragic life of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria and Queen of Hungary (1837-1898) has been subjected to many books and films. Her heritage on Corfu consists of stone and bronze, gardens and terraces, sculptures, ornaments and paintings: Achilleion Palace. Designed in Dorian, Ionian and Pompeian styles by two Napolitan architects and built between 1889 and 1891 the ‘Achillio’ to some is a monstrosity spoiling the lovely landscape, to others a fine piece of living history. Either way the neo-classical building – now Museum Achillion – keeps drawing coach loads of tourists to the village of Gastouri. Some of whom may well be interested in the resident who acquired the palace some years after Sisi’s death and turned it into a centre of European diplomacy: the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
For your eyes only Some other time I might take you through the 72 lavishly furnished rooms, halls and chapel of the museum, for now I content myself taking you through the gardens and up a flight of stairs. Come see the grand terrace on the back that levels with the palace’s second floor. See the dazzling grey and white pattern of the floor tiles, remember the scene in the casino in the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”, admire the row of busts of the blind poet Homer and the Greek philosophers, Shakespeare and the Nine Muses, and then…
Then gaze through the windows to catch a view of the upper part of the main hall, a view that is hidden to you from the inside of the palace, as the stairway to the second floor is closed for the public. But there it is: ‘Triumph des Achill’, as Sisi and the painter called it in German, ‘Achilles’ Triumph’. Homer again!
Ten metres by three… Even from where you are on the terrace, quite a bit away, you most likely cannot help being overwhelmed. The Austrian painter Franz senior Matsch worked on this panoramic, ten metres by three fresco at intervals during the years 1892 to 1894. He had worked for Sisi before, decorating the Hermes Villa near Vienna and this time he choose to depict one of the cruelest scenes from Homer’s Iliad. But he was instructed carefully how to picture it.
We stare at the Greek hero and warrior Achilles racing on his horse drawn chariot around the walls of Troy. The warrior is showing off the helmet that Hector, Troy’s king Priamos’ son, was wearing when he killed him in a duel. Hector’s lifeless body is being dragged behind the chariot through the dust, for all to see from high upon the walls of Troy, his parents, his wife and new-born son…
Rage and horror The rage of Achilles is there, who has seen his best friend Patroklos slain the other day by the same Hector. It flashes like the helmet he holds out to the sun and shines in the sweaty skin of the dark horse. The vengeful jubilation of the Greek warriors is there, swaying their weapons and running after the chariot. And the horror and dismay of the Trojan spectators is there, even though Matsch protected Hektor from the bloody fate that Homer created for him: his head is out of sight and none of his multiple wounds is visible (see: Homer, Iliad, 22, verses 375-404).
The empress wanted her Achilles should not be a muscular warrior. And he is not. Perhaps with his angelic face he had to counterbalance the sculpture by Ernst Herter (1884) further down in the garden, a dying Achilles that pulls the fateful arrow out of his heel. In fact Achilles is omnipresent, inside the palace and outside.
Hidden failure? Many years ago, as I was going to the “Achillio” for the first time, I was prepared by a born islander. He wanted me to detect the painting’s hidden failure. A fatal failure, that caused the painter to kill himself soon after he had finished his long labour. On my return I admitted to my friend I hadn’t got a clue. Ah, but it was in the wheel of the chariot, he said. It showed no movement, it looked like a photograph taken at a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec.
Then I dug into Franz Matsch. Born in Vienna in 1861 he enjoyed a fruitful career as a painter, sculptor and instructor. He studied and worked with the painters Gustav Klimt and Ernst Klimt, decorating theaters throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Around 1891 the artistic trio fell apart. Franz Matsch devoted himself to portrait painting, which he did with some success. Gustav Klimt became very popular with his own personal style of painting.
The “Anker-Uhr“ From 1893 to 1901 Matsch was a teacher at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. In the years 1911-1917 he designed the landmark “Anker-Uhr” clock in Vienna’s first district on the “Hoher Markt”, where it can still be seen today. Franz Matsch lived to be 81 and died of old age in 1942, half a century after the unveiling of his monumental fresco in the “Achillio”. And yes, the style of his triumphing Achilles resembles the art practice of an “action shot”, popular throughout different periods in the history of art. Although it’s true the left part of the painting shows considerably more “movement”.
Rudolf‘s suicide There was someone else who took his life. Empress Elisabeth’s son, the crown prince Rudolf von Habsburg, did in January 1889. Thirty years of age he had just caused the death of his mistress, 17 years young. Shortly after these horrendous events Elisabeth decided to make Corfu her home. She had her Achilleion Palace built and in the memory of her beloved son she idealized Achilles, the strong and divinely beautiful hero. The demigod that would have been immortal if it wasn’t for that vulnerable spot at the back of his heel.
P.S. A remarkable feature is to be seen in the upper right hand corner of Matsch’ fresco. Above the gate in the wall there is a swastika. Of course in 1894 there was not such a thing as a nazi symbol. This abstract figure – that probably originates from an ancient culture in India – was one of the symbols of the city of Troy.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria was stabbed and killed on the quay of Lake Geneva on the 10th of September 1898 by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni.
While Corfu born Angelos Giallinas died before World War II his fame as a painter seems to be spreading still. Having been a very productive artist his watercolours and lithographs can be purchased at Greek and international auctions for prices ranging from € 1.000 to € 6.000. His main subject were the land- and seascapes and architecture of his beloved island, and very few painters – perhaps apart from Edward Lear and Joseph Cartwright – seem to have captured the spirit of the place like he did.
But Giallinas liked his travelling too. After taking painting lessons during 1872-1875 at the Corfu Art School and privately from Charalambos Pachis he studied painting in Venice, Naples and Rome. In Italy he discovered his skills and passion for watercolouring. Returning to Corfu in 1878 he devoted himself almost entirely to this art – next to some lithography – and soon became immensely popular.
National Gallery Giallinas painted scenes in cities like Athens and Istanbul and soon his work was part of exhibitions, both in Greece and abroad. After his long life his reputation kept growing and in 1974 the National Art Gallery in Athens posthumously honoured him with a grand Retrospective.
Corfu Postcards The fact he managed to reach a truly international public much wider than that of connoisseurs of art is also linked to a brilliant move: from 1910 on he had his gorgeous watercolours of village scenes reproduced on postcards. They served a few goals indeed. The enchanting reputation of Corfu went all over Europe, long before the days of mass tourism. Giallinas received a good income from it and his reputation? Well, that’s not hard to guess.
Original Giallinas postcards, printed in Corfu by the Aspiotis-ELKA printworks, today are collector’s items. That’s why it is good news for all admirers of Giallinas and Corfu’s unspoilt scenery that thirteen reprints of his postcards can now be obtained for only € 8,- (including postage and packaging).
The Giallinas Mansion Born to a noble family Angelos Giallinas lived and worked in a Venetian mansion, that is to be found near the Esplanade in Corfu Town, indicated by a commemorative plaque in blue and red on the façade. This plaque and various others in and around town was put up by the Corfu Heritage Foundation.
In March 2018 a project was approved to renovate and reuse the protected Giallinas Mansion with a budget of over € 5 million. The ground floor of the gallery will be used for educational and commercial activities, the first floor will house an exhibition of works by Angelos Giallinas and the second floor will be a multipurpose area. The Corfu Municipality is responsible for the work and the Giallinas Foundation will be responsible for its operation when completed. More news.
The old town of Corfu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007 on the grounds of ‘outstanding universal value’. Visitors and tourists can find hostels, B&B’s and hotels in all classes. My fondest personal memory goes back to a weekend many years ago in the classic Hotel Konstantinoupolis, opening the Venetian blinds in the morning overlooking the square, the old port and the magical blue of the sea.
But here is a tip for a quite different accommodation.
Guest house Locandiera advertizes itself as a ‘mini hotel with personality’. You can find this hidden gem at 8 Ioanni Gennata Street, a quiet side street in the historical centre of Corfu Town, between picturesque Guilford Street with its art shops and Kapodistriou Street, bordered by beautiful Spianada Park & Square, near the Old Fortress.
Locandiera – based in a carefully renovated originally Venetian building – provides six single/double rooms with kitchenette, each with its own individual and artistic identity and style. The ground floor offers a cosy open living room and kitchen area, where you can enjoy your breakfast or drink a coffee. There are regular exhibitions of paintings and photography.
The accommodation blends traditional architectural elements (a centuries old well!) and modern comfort. Quality products (breakfast is included) and reliable and friendly services (free WiFi, iMac, music, books, games, fax, postage, photocopying, bicycles to ride the town!) add to your tranquility, relaxation and wellbeing.
Andreas Monopolis (who learned the art of hospitality in his father’s Jimmy’s Restaurant in Pelekas) and his business partner went out of their way to design and fabricate unique furniture as well as the interior and exterior of the historical building. They even upgraded the street by painting several neighbouring buildings.
Tripadvisor: ‘Great boutique hotel in fabulous location’ (14 October 2019).