Orient Express, the first and most luxurious train in European history, reduced the distance between Paris and Istanbul from a long time of two and a half months to 80 hours. As getting on the Orient Express is a sign of wealth and power, the passengers showed great sensitivity to what to wear while attending the dinner on the train. When the Orient Express, where the rich, noble and aristocratic class entered the race to show itself, for the first time, when it departed from Paris on October 4, 1883, the journey to Varna Port continued by ship. In addition to the participation of many important names on the Orient Express’s maiden voyage, the most notable names were Edmond About, a reporter for The Times newspaper and a French writer and traveller. It is also stated that The Times reporter stayed in Istanbul for a long time to interview Sultan Abdülhamit II.
Many notable officials and diplomats of the French, German, Austrian and Ottoman Empire participated in the first voyage of the Orient Express. Although the first voyage started in 1883, the uninterrupted arrival of the train from Paris to Istanbul took place in 1889. At that time, the analogy of the “palace on the iron rails” was used to describe the richness and ostentation of the Orient Express.
The train departing from Paris in 1889, passes through Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia and arrives in Istanbul. With the opening of the Paris-Istanbul line, the 80 hour journey has dropped to 68 hours, which is seen as an attractive opportunity to satisfy the curiosity of the passengers in the East. The Orient Express, which comes to Istanbul with all its beauty and glamor, has only one problem, and that is that the elite who came to Istanbul on this train do not have a place to stay in Istanbul. It is up to the Ottoman Levantine architect Alexandre Vallaury to build the hotel suitable for diplomats and nobles coming from Europe. Vallaury makes such a flamboyant and flawless hotel that it is still among the most important hotels in Istanbul, despite more than 100 years passed since.
Travels and migrations are considered to be the most important means of cultural exchange throughout history. Orient Express, in the 19th century, enabled the social and economic differences between the West and the East to cross each other and an important cultural exchange to occur. While the train transports cotton, leather, spices and sesame from Istanbul to Paris; Shoes, perfume, wine, hat and fabric are transported from Paris to Istanbul. Along with this, the Eastern curiosity of the West and the West curiosity of the Eastern increase and the demand for Orient Express increases.
The arrival of the train to Istanbul also leads to the construction of a hotel in the standards desired by the passengers from Europe and brings the Pera Palace in Istanbul as magnificent as the Ottoman Palaces. Pera Palace, which was built by Alexandre Vallaury, was opened in 1895 and goes down in history as the first building in Istanbul where electricity was used and the first elevator service started, except for palaces.
One of the most important passengers of the Orient Express is the British crime writer Agatha Christie. It is rumoured that his novel Murder in the Orient Express, written in 1933, was inspired by the Orient Express. Although there are different stories on the subject, Agatha Christie disappears for 11 days after learning that she was cheated by her husband. He spends this 11 day period at Pera Palace and writes the novel Murder on the Orient Express. Even today, there is a room in Pera Palace dedicated to Agatha Christie.
Also French President Paul Dechanel, Bulgarian King Ferdinand, Belgian King Leopold II, Literature Agatha Christie, spy Mata Hari and Lawrence of Arabia are among the people traveling on the Orient Express.
As a result of the development of technology, high speed trains, and the increase in plane flights, the interest in Orient Express decreases. With the decrease in demand for the Orient Express, the train made its last trip on May 27, 1977. However, since 2009, Orient Express line has been continued by organizing a symbolic flight every September.