The Orient Express

The Orient Express

The books by this writer rank third most popular in the world after the Bible and the Shakespeare’s works, with a circulation of four billion copies. The talk is about Agatha Christie. When the name of the famous writer is mentioned, her native land, England, first comes to mind; anyway, our correspondent found a Turkish trace in her life in Istanbul. Agatha Christie wrote one of her most popular novels, Murder on the Orient Express, in this city.

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Europe in the East

It is best to start a walk in the footsteps of Agatha Christie in Istanbul from Taksim Square (Taksim Meydanı) located in the European part of the city in the Beyoglu (Beyoğlu) District. Istiklal Avenue (İstiklâl Caddesi) stretches from this square all the way to the Golden Horn Bay (Haliç). This is the longest street in Europe, its more than 1.7 kilometers long. Today, it attracts numerous tourists with its fashionable shops, noisy restaurants, and hotels. But what is most striking about Istiklal Avenue is its architecture. Almost nothing on Istiklal Avenue looks like Turkey, the street looks more like a pompous 18th-century European one with buildings in the Empire and Baroque styles. There is a reason for this. Back in the 15th century, the area near the Golden Horn Bay was a favorite place of the Genoese merchants. This is confirmed by the Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi), its name sounds like an Italian one. Genoese merchants settled near this place, and the trade was brisk. Later on, people of other European countries also chose this area, and various embassies were opened on Istiklal Avenue. One of the most beautiful buildings is the Flower Passage (Çiçek Pasajı) that was originally conceived as a theater, as evidenced by the surviving inscription.

However, after a fire in 1876, the building was reconstructed. Cafes, restaurants and flower shops were opened there. After the Russian revolution in 1917, the Russian emigrants - princesses and countesses - sold flowers at this place. This was a humiliating occupation, because earlier, this business was mainly carried out by gypsies. Today, you won’t find flowers in the Flower Passage, but as before, after going through it, you can get to the English Embassy and walk to the Pera Palace Hotel from there. This is one of the most luxurious hotels in Istanbul like it was over a century ago.

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A hotel room for Agatha

The Pera Palace Hotel was built in 1895 specifically for wealthy Europeans. And there were reasons for this. In 1888, the Orient Express train was launched from Istanbul to Paris, and the journey took 80 hours. 


The pleasure was not cheap, only wealthy people could afford traveling by the Orient Express. And they also wanted to say at a luxury hotel after their trip. This is how Pera Palace appeared with stunning views of the Golden Horn Bay. The author of the project was the French-Ottoman architect Alexandre Vallaury. The building was designed in the ‘Orientalist eclecticism’ style that combined the majestic neoclassicism, luxurious Art Nouveau and the splendor of the oriental construction. The hotel had all the amenities. For the first time in Turkey (except the palaces of the sultans), there was an electricity and hot water supply, and an elevator, second only to the Eiffel Tower. Naturally, the hotel was extremely popular. Agatha Christie stayed at this hotel, from 1926 to 1932, she permanently rented hotel room 411.

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It is worth saying a few words about Agatha Christie. She was an amazing woman. Agatha Christie (nee Agatha Mary Clarissa, Lady Mallowan) was born on September 15, 1890 to Frederick and Clara Miller in the English seaside town of Torquay in Devonshire. Her father was half-American, that is why the family lived in England, on the continent, and overseas. When the girl turned 11 years old, her father died and her luxurious life came to end, the girl was sent to school, at first in England, and then in Paris. After France, shy Agatha became a progressive and modern attractive young lady. In 1912, Archibald Christie, a military pilot, appeared in her life. And then the First World War began and Agatha went to work as a hospital nurse. Later on, she worked as a pharmacist, and poisoning as a method of murder was used more than 80 times in her books.

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Agatha Christie made her attempts to write novels, as they say, for a bet. Her first book was rejected by six publishers. The seventh book was published in a small edition of only 2,000 copies, but this was also a kind of victory. Despite the fact that Great Britain has always been considered a leading and progressive country, it was almost the last in the world to recognize the women’s rights. At that time, her husband Archibald came to Agatha and demanded a divorce. What to do? Agatha went missing. And while the policemen did their best to find her and suspected her unfaithful husband of murder, newspapers published articles with the headlines about the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie. A week later she was found, all charges against her husband were dropped, and she became popular.

In 1930, Agatha Christie was a famous writer and went on a trip where she met her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan whom she visited on the excavations in the East. Of course, she traveled through Istanbul. During one of her trips, the Orient Express train got stuck in an avalanche. The amount of coal for heating the train in those days was limited. Therefore, the passengers of the luxury train had to walk the whole day in the snow not to waste coal for heating the train. It was then that Agatha Christie watched the characters for her future book Murder on the Orient Express.

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The Pera Palace Hotel is still in operation. In the early 2000s, it was renovated. Anyway, the spirit of Agatha Christie’s times was preserved as much as possible. For example, tourists can see a special cabin in the hotel used to transfer visitors from the carriages to the hotel. There is also a coffee grinder from the 19th century. 

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Agatha Christie is not the only writer who stayed at the Pera Palace. Ernest Hemingway also stayed at this hotel and mentioned it in his story The Snows of Killimanjaro. The Pera Palace also has the room where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of the Turkish Republic, stayed and that room is a museum now. The hotel visitors can still use a unique 19th-century elevator. If visitors wish, they can even put up at the Agatha Christie’s hotel room, which costs from 400 euros per night. Anyone can go into the lobby, have a cup of tea or dine at the hotel’s Agata restaurant.

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Train departs…

Of course, the hotel is not the only place associated with Agatha Christie in Istanbul. It is enough to cross the Galata Bridge (Galata Köprüsü, also Eski Köprü) over the Golden Horn Bay to find yourself in the Old City, where Sirkeci Station (Sirkeci Garı) is located. It was from here that the Orient Express train began running in 1883. The train passed through Varna, Ruse, Bucharest, Budapest, Vienna, Munich, Ulm, Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, and Strasbourg. The railway line for it was built thanks to the Western investments. The Turkish government did not have any money for constructing the station. Then the inventive Turks announced a competition among the students of the Istanbul Polytechnic School. As a result, the project by the Prussian architect August Carl Friedrich Jasmund who was lecturing at the Polytechnic School at that time won. The station building, with an area of 1,200 square meters, was built only five years after launching the Orient Express train.


This is one of the most famous examples of the European Orientalism style. The station was equipped with the latest technology, illuminated and heated with gas. The building has never been rebuilt, and visitors can still find a lot of original details in it. But the Sirkeci Station doesn’t function as a train station any longer. The Orient Express restaurant is the only thing that reminds the travelers of the Orient Express train. The building was not even shown in the film about Hercule Poirot that was quite recently released. True, there are plans to revive the famous Orient Express train, it is expected that the train can pass through different European cities, and its passengers can make a kind of a cruise. The journey promises to be luxurious as it was in the days of Agatha Christie. The preliminary cost of a trip by the Orient Express train from Istanbul to Paris is estimated at half a million rubles.