THE KERYLOS VILLA Kerylos or Sea Swallow: An imaginary place in Beaulieu-sur-Mer
For a century, it has been standing on a headland on the steep rocky shore which looks like the Greek sea side. In the early 1900s, a period called “les années folles”, Theodore Reinach, a prominent Hellenist proposes the architect Emmanuel Pontremoli with a mad project: build a Grecian villa.
The challenge is taken up and the realisation will last from 1902 to 1908. “The house had to be incorporated into this shore; it had to be built to fight against the winds, to bask in the sunshine, to bathe in the sea in order not to alter the beauty of the place.
It had to be conceived for this country where everything melts into sunlight similar to the Greek one” Theodore Reinach. Far from making a pastiche of Delos Island houses, Pontremoli devotes himself to re-inventing ancient Greece. Using all the modern comfort amenities of the early nineteenth century, he develops the villa around a peristyle (patio) lined with monolithic Carrara marble columns, where the owner used to enjoy strolling.
Each room has a Grecian name: the andron (the sitting-room), the balaneions (the bathroom), and the triklinos (the dining-room). The wall decorations are made of frescoes or mosaics inspired by ancient documents depicting scenes of Greek mythology.
Each piece of furniture is an exact copy of a Grecian original and was crafted using traditional methods. The elegantly furnished inner spaces are jointed to one another in harmony. Located at sea-level the “galerie des Antiques” is a collection of lifesize casts of the finest classical Grecian statues. Here is a Hellenist’s dream come true, a mere illusion of a Grecian dwelling of twenty five centuries ago. Such human dreams are moving because they disclose the profound nature of the person who has lived them and given them shape. Therefore, in this place, we understand why Theodore Reinach pleased himself in dressing in ancient clothes such as the Chlamydia (a sort of short coat fastened with a fibula) and asked his guests to do the same. The atmosphere in Kerylos favours the wide-awake continuation of its initiator’s dream. We are not in a mere copy of a Grecian villa. When walking behind the colonnade, when passing from a sitting-room to a bed-room, we enter a world of luxury that takes us back two or three centuries B.C. in the birthplace of our Mediterranean civilization.
Like a Grecian play, the villa tells us about its creator and his contemporaries.
Theodore Reinach was an enthusiast for Ancient Greece: he is the person who deciphered the musical notation of a hymn to Apollo carved in stone in Delphos. His friend, composer Gabriel Fauré, transcribed it into a melody that T. Reinach would play on the piano, an anachronism that only dream allows.
His encounter with Emmanuel Pontremoli, as enamoured as he was of Grecian civilization, partakes of the materialization of his dream. Both travelled together several times in Greece before embarking upon the utopia generated by their common enthusiasm, the Kerylos villa. A century later, the success of their creation is patent and their tribute to the celebration of Hellenistic culture still fascinates us. The fruit of the encounter between an enlightened patron of the arts, T. Reinach and of an inspired architect, E. Pontremoli, the villa Kerylos standing at the end of the rocky promontory of the “Fourmis” is unique. It is surrounded by a garden that contains typical Greek plants: acanthus, myrtle, pomegranate and carob trees, olive trees and vines…
The place was bequeathed by the owner to the “Institut de France” in 1928 and listed as historical monument in 1967. The villa Kerylos is open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at height of the season and in the afternoon, in the rest of the year.
Impasse Gustave Eiffel
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