To better understand the Orient Express we have to realize that the borders and political reality in the Europe of the end 19th century was quite different as it is nowadays. Great Brittany was the leading trading nation in the world, but without territorial ambitions on the continent. There France, the Habsburg Empire (Austria-Hungary) and the Ottoman Empire were the superpowers.
Wars and conflicts
In the almost hundred years that the Orient Express existed, Europe has been the stage for different international conflicts and wars.
The Orient Express played in important role in these; as connection line to transport head of state, diplomats and spies (accompanied by artists and other bohemians) between the capitals but also as victim of attacks and because the service had to be shut down because of acts of war.
The train run through the notorious instable Balkan, where the orthodox-Christian population was alternately suppressed by the Islamic Ottoman Empire and the Roman-Catholic Habsburg Empire and had to fight for its freedom.
The Belgium businessman Georges Nagelmackers (1845 – 1905), founder of the French Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL), was the initiator of the Orient Express. His plan was to connect the capitals of Great Britain (London), France (Paris), Austria-Hungary (Vienna) and the Ottoman Empire (Istanbul) with each other. At that time this was a project of great political importance.
76 hours on the train
The Orient Express was owned by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL) en was officially inaugurated on October 4th 1883. The train left Gare de l’Est in Paris, accompanied by Mozart’s Turkish March. The trip from Paris to Vienna took 76 hours and the route passed among others: Strasbourg, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Ulm and Munich in Germany, Vienna in Austria, Budapest in Hungary, Bucharest in Romania and Rousse and Varna in Bulgaria. Here the travellers could take a boat to Turkey. From 1885 the train tracks were continued from Vienna to Beograd and in 1889 the final destination (Istanbul) could be reached overland.
The end of a phenomenon
Because other and often cheaper transport became available, specially the own car and later the plane, the Direct Orient Express was lifted. The last trip was made on 19 May 1977. A night train under the name Orient Express kept on connecting Paris via Budapest to Bucharest but in 2009 this line was also lifted.