After her stay in Istanbul, Agatha Christie left the world one of the best selling detective novels in history, and a clue to her mysterious disappearance in 1926. Visit the sights in the city where the writer had been to satisfy your curiosity and nostalgic spirit.
By Yao Hsiao
When the Orient Express started to bring passengers from Paris via Munich, Vienna, and Budapest to the Sirkeci railway station of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1890, this luxurious long distance railway journey soon became a legend. Although the route was modified several times, Istanbul had been the terminal stop of this itinerary until 1962. Throughout the service period, the train carried royals, aristocrats, and celebrities as they traveled from the west, all hoping to catch a glimpse into the oriental world. Amongst those travelers was the famous detective novel author Agatha Christie. Whether you’re a fan of Christie, or simply interested in the old Istanbul of the early twentieth century, here are some places to see to satisfy your curiosity.
Start with Sirkeci station
For all passengers of the Orient Express, like Christie, Sirkeci railway station in Istanbul is the beginning of the eastern world. Designed by German architect August Jasmund, the station began operations in 1890 and was an example of Orientalist, Mamluk style architecture. In the eyes of curious western travelers, the station was the door to the exotic, mysterious world of the Ottoman Empire. For the Ottomans, who were actively trying to modernize, introducing the railway system was an important symbol of civilization, directly connecting Istanbul to the rest of Europe.
Now the site is merely used for domestic transportation, but part of the original building and façade remains. Stop by the room-size Railway Museum and take a look at the collection of archives and artifacts of the famed Orient Express.
Stay in Pera Palace Hotel
Established in 1892 to accommodate the clients of the Orient Express, Pera Palace Hotel was one of the city’s earliest modern hotels, equipped with an elevator, showers, radiator heat, and electric lighting. Charles King describes it as “the grandest Western-style hotel in the seat of the world’s greatest Islamic empire” in his book Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul.
Among all the famous guests of the hotel, Christie and her room has the most interesting story. She stayed in Room 411 several times between 1926 and 1932, and it is believed that here she wrote Murder on the Orient Express, a story about a Belgian detective solving a crime that happened on the train. The room, in which you may now stay as the hotel’s guest, has kept some of the original antique furniture and is decorated with books and items paying homage to the author.
Find Agatha Christie’s key
There was a key found in Room 411 at Pera Palace Hotel, and rumor has it that it can open Christie’s diary, which holds the secret as to what happened during her 11-day disappearance. On December 3, 1926, Christie left the house after learning about her husband’s affair and hopped into her car. The next day, the car was found abandoned by a lake and yet, despite a grand rescue mission, no one could locate the writer for 11 days. Because Christie claimed to have no memory of these days, the incident became an ongoing mystery.
In 1979, Warner Bros. wanted to film this extraordinary story. To gain information, the production team of the Agatha movie decided to ask for help from medium Tamara Rand, who later called the spirit of Christie. According to Rand, during the séance, she saw the late author hide a key under the floorboards in her room at Pera Palace Hotel that will lead to the answer to the disappearance. The vision turned out to be true, and the media went insane when a key was actually found in Room 411.
Unfortunately, the hotel and the production company couldn’t come to terms on a price for the key, plus the diary was never found, so the mystery remains unsolved. However, this story inspired not only Turkish author Ahmet Ümit to write Agatha’nın Anahtarı (Agatha’s Key), but also led Escapist to design an advanced escape game by the same name. If you’re smart and curious enough, take the challenge with a group of your friends and see if you can find the famous key of Agatha Christie. Find more information about the escape game at www.escapist.com.tr.
- Dine at 1924 Istanbul. Founded by Russians fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution, the restaurant has served many famous people, including Agatha Christie.
- See Tokatlıyan Han and Pasaj in Beyoğlu. The location used to house the Tokatlıyan Hotel, where the protagonist in Murder on the Orient Express stays.
- Watch Agatha (1979). Directed by Michael Apted, the movie is a fictional account of Christie’s 11 day disappearance.