The estate’s history is fairly unknown to the greater public and is connected with one of the darkest moments of the Greek dynasty.
The protagonists were prince Andrew of Greece, the father of Philip. In 1922, after the failure of the Asia Minor campaign where he saw service as major general, the government ordered his arrest at Mon Repos, the house which had been granted to him by his father, King George. At the trial which followed next, he was sentenced to death. However, he was spared, thanks to the intervention of the British government. He boarded the British cruiser HMS Calypso, and passed by Corfu to pick up his wife, Princess Alice of Battenberg, and their children. Italy was their first stop and Paris was their final destination, where they settled at a house belonging to his brother, Prince George and his wife Maria Bonaparte. In the meantime, the new Greek government declared Greece a Republic (uncrowned democracy) and confiscated Mon Repos.
Prince Andrew would have to wait for twelve years and undergo a number of trials in order to regain its possession. Let’s go back in time, however, sixty years before, to retell a more pleasant event that took place.
In 1864, after the Union of the Ionian Islands with Greece, Corfu’s County Council offered Mon Repos to the founder of the new dynasty, George I (1863-1913). The estate hosted, up to then, high commissioners from England, among which Sir Frederic Adam, who had built it out of love for a beautiful woman from Corfu, Nina Palatianos. In 1863, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, more commonly known as Sissy, stayed there too. Charmed by the island, she decided to build her own palace at a nearby location, naming it after her favourite hero from Homer’s Illiad, Achilles.
For a whole century Mon Repos was used as a summer residence by the royal family of Greece, with a few breaks, such as during the time of the Republic (1924-1935), the Italian Occupation (1941-1943) and the German Occupation (1943-1944).
In 1967, King Constantine launched a counter-coup against the military junta. It was aborted and so he was forced to flee into exile along with his family.
Mon Repos, along with both other palaces, the Royal Palace of Athens and Tatoi, became derelict. After a series of litigations, the Greek State, which had acquired all the royal wealth, was obliged to compensate Constantine with 13,700,000 euros. Mon Repos was granted to the Ministry of Culture, which turned it into a museum in 2000. Its new name is Museum of Paleopolis, derived from the area’s ancient name. Archaeological findings are exhibited there, dating from the Archaic to the Roman era. These findings were revealed after archaeological excavations had taken place within the 258-acre estate.
At the same time, 19th century exhibits are also on display, a donation by the Palatianos family, such as furniture, portraits and a splendid dress of its first owner.
Yet let us go back in time once more, to the estate’s golden era. According to the magazine Ikones (issue 409), the journalist Maria Karavia mentions: “sometimes the King (Paul) or Princess Irene would offer the family a musical evening event of the highest quality, by playing on the piano old music and mostly, works by Bach.
However, the evenings usually belonged to the King and Queen. At times they would converse till into the night, and at others, being accustomed to each other for twenty-five whole years, they would silently stare at the starry sky and the sleepy sea. The old garden was replete with night sounds and humidity, the faint ghostly presence of Corfiot nights, rendering the landscape eerie.
That was the most humane hour of the Sovereigns. The time of dawn, the absolute gazing at a beauty which transforms contemplation into a certain soul-searching, so close to prayer”.
Article by Christos Zampounis