This Day in History – October 4th, 1883

Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name has become synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris and Istanbul, the original endpoints of the timetabled service. On June 5th, 1883, the first Express d’Orient left Paris for Vienna, but on October 4th, 1883 the end destination was replaced by Istanbul and thus began the mystique and romance of this famous railroad journey. The train was officially renamed Orient Express in 1891.


The original route, which first ran on October 4, 1883, was from Paris, Gare de l’Est, to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu, passengers were ferried across the Danube to Ruse, Bulgaria, to pick up another train to Varna. They then completed their journey to Istanbul by ferry. In 1885, another route began operations, this time reaching Istanbul via rail from Vienna to Belgrade and Niš, carriage to Plovdiv and rail again to Istanbul.


In 1889, the train’s eastern terminus became Varna in Bulgaria, where passengers could take a ship to Istanbul. On June 1, 1889, the first non-stop train to Istanbul left Paris (Gare de l’Est). Istanbul remained its easternmost stop until May 19, 1977. The eastern terminus was the Sirkeci Terminal by the Golden Horn. Ferry service from piers next to the terminal would take passengers across the Bosphorus to Haydarpaşa Terminal, the terminus of the Asian lines of the Ottoman Railways.

WL_GOLDEN_ARROWDuring both World War I and the Second World War the line was forced to close, but the period between the wars saw the height of Orient Express services, with three parallel services running: the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express, and also the Arlberg Orient Express, which ran via Zürich and Innsbruck to Budapest, with sleeper cars running onwards from there to Bucharest and Athens. During this time, the Orient Express acquired its reputation for comfort and luxury, carrying sleeping-cars with permanent service and restaurant cars known for the quality of their cuisine. Royalty, nobles, diplomats, business people and the bourgeoisie in general patronized it. Each of the Orient Express services also incorporated sleeping cars which had run from Calais to Paris, thus extending the service right from one edge of continental Europe to the other.

The route most famously appears in the 1934 mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express by British author Agatha Christie featuring her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, but the train also makes an appearance in the 1897 novel Dracula by Bram Stoker when the team sworn to kill Dracula ride it to Varna to cut off the vampire’s escape. Despite the railway route’s gradual decline over the decades, the name “Orient Express” still conjures up an image of style, sophistication, and intrigue . . .

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