If you’re like a lot of people, you probably know about the Orient Express mainly through Agatha Christie’s famous mystery novel, Murder on the Orient Express, or the film adaptation of it.
But the Orient Express was a very real train, a long-distance passenger line running, at its longest, from London to Istanbul.
First built in 1883, it was synonymous with luxurious travel and adventures to foreign lands, and it was the peak of opulent, stylish travel.
However, with the advent of cars and planes, train travel, especially over long distances, decreased through the 20th century. The Orient Express’ range shrunk steadily. In 1977, it stopped going to Istanbul, and in 2007, it ran for the very last time, from Paris to Vienna.
While today’s technology allows us to go anywhere in record time, there’s something undeniably appealing about the old-school glamour of the Orient Express, especially when modern transport is often cramped, bland, and devoid of personality — and if you travel by air, food.
The Orient Express also symbolized freedom and exploration for people of the past.
Today, we can zoom in on almost any street corner in the world thanks to satellites and street views — but back then, the world still felt huge and new, and the idea of an average person being able to travel far and wide was exciting, kind of like the strange thrill you get seeing posters that remind us that space travel is a very real possibility of the near future.
So, what happened to the Orient Express? Well, at least one of the old cars was documented by a Dutch photographer who goes by Brian, and even under the rust, you can still see traces of how beautiful this train must have been. Check it out below!
The Orient Express debuted in 1883, built by the French company Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL).
It started out as a simple train line connecting western and eastern Europe, but soon became associated with luxury, glamour, and intrigue.
This bilingual poster from 1888 shows the map to Istanbul (still called Constantinople back then).
From Paris, the trip would have taken 66 hours, or just under three days.
Posters advertising the train in Europe, especially in England and France, attracted people with images of faraway destinations and beautiful, historic sites.
This poster shows the famous Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, built in 1557.
As the years progressed and political landscapes and borders changed, new lines were introduced, which sometimes brought new countries into the loop.
After WWI, the Orient Express was rerouted out of Germany and Austria, and instead through northern Italy, the Balkans, and Greece.
In the early 1900s, the Orient Express became associated with luxury travel and the elite.
The trains were celebrated for their luxurious sleeping cars, restaurant cars, and impeccable service.
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, written in 1929, also increased its mystique.
The discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 was used to advertise travel to the Middle East, too.
After the 1930s, the Orient Express started pushing farther east, and by 1940, it reached Baghdad.
So, whatever happened to this enormous, culture-crossing train line, anyway?
The Orient Express ran until 2007, when it made its final journey from Paris to Vienna. As you can see, the cars were still pretty fancy.
But air travel quickly became the preferred way to travel in the 20th century, and train travel declined.
Today, one of the Orient Express cars of old times is still sitting on some tracks in Belgium. While other cars have been repurposed, this one has been sitting here since 2009.
It doesn’t look like much today, but given its heritage, it reminds us of a time gone by.
Urban explorer and photographer Brian of Precious Decay Photography took a peek inside and captured the remains of its luxury, which you can still see under years of rust and grime.
You can still see the plush upholstery and the rich wood paneling that decorated this train.
“When I step into an abandoned site, it feels like stepping into a time machine,” Brian says. “I try to feel the emotions of [the place’s] past, and this is what I want to show in my pictures.”
His photos recall a time when travel was an adventure.While train travel is still going strong, it’s unlikely it will ever have the mystery and glamour of the Orient Express’ heyday.
You can see more of Brian’s photography on his website and Facebook page, and be sure to SHARE this glimpse of the past with any of your friends who love to travel!