What is the Real Story Behind the Legendary Orient Express?

Historic Paris-to-Istandbul train is being recreated once again for the big screen.

November 11, 2017 5:00 am

The legendary Orient Express, the train which has hosted such luminary—fictional—passengers such as James Bond and Hercule Poirot, is chugging back into our lives through the remake of Agatha Christie’s classic murder-mystery tale, Murder on the Orient Express. But this train is more than just an ornate movie set, it was a real-life rail route. So what’s its story?

According to Smithsonian Magazinea prominent Belgian banker’s son, Georges Nagelmackers, envisioned a train that would span a continent back in 1865. During a trip to America, he witnessed “sleeper cars,” and he came back determined to create his own, opulent version. After many successes and setbacks, Nagelmackers’s Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (which means sleeper cars), established a route from Paris to Istanbul in 1883. The newspapers called it the “Orient Express” and it stuck. The first journey happened on Oct. 4 and took over 80 hours.

The train was constantly host to odd passengers, and continent-hopping secret agents “loved the train,” writes Smithsonian. It’s also connected to a lot of interesting history. For example, German officers signed a surrender document in an Allied commander’s Wagons-Lit car after World War I. The French made the car into an exhibition, until Hitler ordered that the car be hauled to the spot where the Germans had been forced to surrender 22 years before, and then he dictated the terms of the French surrender. When it seemed like Hitler would lose, he ordered that the car be blown up.

The pedigree of the train diminished over the years, as similar train lines were created for different purposes. Today the Venice-Simplon Orient Express attempts to recreate the experience of the original train, but you have to pay the price. You can still go for a ride in its restored original Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits cars.

While the era of intrigue and international drama abroad the Orient Express is over, it has became the train of choice for Europe’s traveling wealthy elites. However, Smithsonian writes that “in a world that becomes more connected every day—and one in which there is no shortage of luxury travel—much of Nagelmackers’s vision lives on.”

Watch the trailer for the Murder on the Orient Express below.

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