Modernism: Paris and Berlin

In the West-oriented educational setting of the 1920s, as part of the Ministry of Education’s initiative to send successful students abroad to help them gain […]

Journey to Istanbul by Train

Advertisement for Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens’ [International Company for Wagon-Lits and Grand European Expresses] agencies.  1873-98 25 x 31 cm Pierre de Gigord Collection.

Advertisement for Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens’ [International Company for Wagon-Lits and Grand European Expresses] agencies.
1873-98
25 x 31 cm
Pierre de Gigord Collection.

During the first half of the 19th century, few travelers put themselves in danger and opted for the land route to get from Western Europe to Constantinople. Neither physical and human geography, nor political conditions were favorable for traveling across the Balkans. But in 1889, the Orient-Express connecting Paris to İstanbul without interruption brought an increasing number of travelers to Sirkeci Train Station.

Passengers at Sirkeci Train Station. Anonymous Early 1930s Glass negative 9 x 12 cm Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Photography Collection.

Passengers at Sirkeci Train Station.
Anonymous
Early 1930s
Glass negative
9 x 12 cm
Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Photography Collection.

The acceleration of transport (67 hours and 35 minutes from Paris to Constantinople with the Orient-Express in 1889) led to a shortening of the stay, as traveling on the “railway palace” was just as important as the destination. While the average length of stay at the Ottoman capital was three months during Gérard de Nerval’s time, three days were now enough.

Postcard of the Orient-Express. Illustration: Jules Chéret  1888 14.5 x 10.3 cm Pierre de Gigord Collection. First poster for the Orient-Express made by the French painter and lithograph Jules Chéret, master of Belle Époque poster art.

Postcard of the Orient-Express.
Illustration: Jules Chéret
1888
14.5 x 10.3 cm
Pierre de Gigord Collection.
First poster for the Orient-Express made by the French painter and lithograph Jules Chéret, master of Belle Époque poster art.

Adventures of all kinds, as well as the confined space of the cars thus inspire cartoonists, singers, and show organizers (including Oscar Sachs).

Advertisement for the Orient Express show that was held at the Trianon Concert. Show: Oscar Sach; music: Henri Neuzillet; illustrations: Alfred Choubrac  Paris, 1896 41 x 60 cm  Pierre de Gigord Collection. The train driver modestly turns his back to a burlesque scene that shows a soldier, a bourgeois and a priest on a spree. Narrow and confined sleeping cars, a place of social diversity and, what is more, flagrant promiscuity between sexes were bound to led to fantasy and to enhance the erotic vision of the train.

Advertisement for the Orient Express show that was held at the Trianon Concert.
Show: Oscar Sach; music: Henri Neuzillet; illustrations: Alfred Choubrac
Paris, 1896
41 x 60 cm
Pierre de Gigord Collection.

A suitable setting for romantic and detective stories, the Orient-Express stirs the imagination of many novelists and filmmakers, including Maurice Dekobra with La Madone des Sleepings (a bestseller that centers on the fashion of cosmopolitan snobbery in traveling aboard sleeping cars), the Agatha Christie mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, made into a feature film by Sidney Lumet, Graham Green with Stamboul Train, and Terrance Young with the second film of the consecutive James Bond adventures, From Russia with Love.

Part from the film Murder on the Orient-Express.
Director: Sidney Lumet
1974

This blog post is compiled from the articles “Jean-Michel Belorgey – Istanbul by Train” and “Catherine Pinguet – Journey to Istanbul” in “Journey to the Center of the East 1850 – 1950” exhibition catalogue .

Journey to the Center of the East 1850-1950 100: Years of Travelers in İstanbul from Pierre de Gigord Collection can be seen free of admissions until October 17.

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