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Villa Kérylos

Gift of the Greeks

According to the myth, Alcyone was the daughter of Aelous, ruler of the Winds, and married to Ceyx, king of Thessaly. Their blissful union was touched by tragedy, as Ceyx drowned and his grief-stricken wife plunged into the sea. Her father, in pity, calmed the winds and allowed the lovers to reunite, where they were transformed into the mythical bird Halcyon, who nested at sea and could charm the wind and the waves into an idyllic calm, at least for the fortnight around the winter solstice, and came to be regarded, in a modern incarnation as the tree kingfishers (Halcyonidae), as an omen of good fortune. “Halcyon days” came to represent a past time of idyllic happiness and peace, and it is in this spirit that Villa Kérylos was conceived, constructed, and christened.

Théodore Reinach hailed from a prominent Jewish family of bankers from Frankfurt, and enjoyed a long and glorious career in many disciplines but principally in archaeology. He passionately admired the art and architecture of classical Greece, and worked on the French excavations at Delphi. In 1872 the French School of Archaeology began excavations on the Cycladian island of Delos (or Dhilos), an ancient Greek sacred site, considered the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Reinach was entranced by the elegant design and serene atmosphere evinced by the noble houses from 2nd century BC Delos, and decided to create his own traditional Greek villa on the rocky coastline at Beaulieu-sur-Mer, overlooking the Baie des Fourmis on the Côte d’Azur (and just down the road from Villa Ephrussi – Madame Reinach was the niece of Maurice Ephrussi). He engaged architect Emmanuel Pontremoli of Nice, also a devotee of ancient and classical architecture and veteran of many famous excavations, and together they built, between 1902 and 1908, a magnificent edifice of living history. Villa Kérylos spans the millenia, wedding authentic architectural principles and decorative details of classical Greece, as well as influences from ancient Rome, Pompeii, and Egypt, with the modern comforts and style of the Belle Epoque.

Set in a pleasant Mediterranean garden of cypress, olives, oleander, pine, and palm trees, Villa Kérylos enjoys panoramic views of the rugged coastline from Beaulieu to Monaco, especially from the terrace perched atop an impressive tower in one corner. The entrance hall features an original 2nd century BC mosaic, and the luxurious octagonal Carrera-marble thermal baths are also decorated with mosaic: sea creatures and plants surround the six-pointed bronze star-shaped drain.

The heart of the construction is the peristyle, an interior courtyard designed to provide light and ventilation to the entire house, but also which would have served as the main reception area, and in Kérylos it would have seen quite a number of prominent personages of all sorts receiving the Reinachs’ warm welcome. Surrounded by twelve Carrera marble columns with Doric and Ionic capitals, the peristyle is gloriously decorated with colourful painted frescoes, mainly stories from Greek myths: Hermes and Apollo, Jason and the Argonauts. The magnificent staterooms giving onto the peristyle include the spectacular east-facing library which was inspired by a library discovered in Herculaneum and houses Théodore Reinach’s collection of art and archaeology books, as well as a wonderful collection of authentic objects from ancient Greece. The banqueting hall is furnished with three reclining beds for those traditionally horizontal Greek-style repasts; the decor of satyrs suggests enjoyment, perhaps even dionysian excess. Apollo with his lyre and the beautiful Narcissus also grace the walls. The Andron, sort of a men’s clubroom, is the most luxurious room in the Villa, with truly exquisite marble walls and a bold floor mosaic of Theseus and the Minotaur. A small family room would have been dedicated to arts and music, and includes a remarkable Pleyel piano action encased in lemonwood.

The private apartments on the first floor are also furnished principally with exact copies of Greek furniture made using traditional methods based on examples found in the Naples National Archaeology Museum. A bronze Hermes, symbol of fertility and thus a protective family deity, is a copy of a sculpture found on the seabed off Tunisia. The master bedroom, dedicated to Eros (who else?), glows in a regal red, and the master bathroom features a one-tonne Carrera marble bath. This room is known as the Nikai, after Nike, goddess of victory. The bedroom of Madame Reinach is beautifully decorated in an aviary theme, and the shower room is open at the top to receive the cleansing rain.

At a lower level is the Galerie des Antiques, with life-sized casts of some of the most beautiful classical Greco-Roman statues ever known, including Venus de Milo and Venus of Arles. Villa Kérylos was bequeathed by Théodore Reinach on his deathbed to the Institut de France, and in 1967 was declared a historic monument. Culturespaces assumed its management in 2001.

Greek Villa Kérylos
06310 Beaulieu-sur-Mer

© Veran

© C. Recoura

© C. Recoura

© C. Recoura

© P. Louzon

© P. Louzon

© C. Recoura

© C. Recoura