Orient Express, the history of a legendary train

The most famous train in the history of rail transport, the Orient Express has taken on board prestigious passengers, diplomats, kings, artists and even spies! The mythical image of this legendary train has been conveyed by both literature (Agatha Christie) and the cinema (James Bond).

Its itinerary has evolved according to the economic, technical and political context of the different eras. A product of modernity, progress and the expansion of European industrialisation, the Orient Express constantly reinvented itself, surviving two World Wars. Competition from air transport led to its decline. Its adventure came to an end in 1977.


image wikipedia

The Compagnie internationale des wagons-lits


Belgian civil engineer and industrialist Georges Nagelmackers (1845-1905) founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits in 1872 and the Orient Express in 1883.

Following a trip to the United States, where he discovered the night trains operated by George Pullman, the Belgian civil engineer and industrialist Georges Nagelmackers began to think about improving comfort on the railways. In 1870, he published a project for the installation of sleeping cars on the continent's railways.


With the support of Belgium's King Leopold II, he was granted permission to run the first sleeper train on the Paris-Vienna route, for which he paid and directed the manufacture. Run in November 1872, this first trial proved a great success. The same year, he set up his own company, "Georges Nagelmackers et Cie".

Calais - Interlaken - Engadin - Express, Cie Int des Wagons-Lits

1896 – Frédéric HUGO D'ALESI


In 1873, he joined forces with the wealthy American inventor William d'Alton Mann and the two founded the "Mann's Railway Sleeping Car Company". They developed the compartment carriage whose doors opened onto a side corridor, allowing passengers to move around and use the toilets at the end of the carriage.

In August 1875, Nagelmackers bought out his partner's shares. On 4 December 1876, he founded the "Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits" (International Sleeping Cars Company), which in 1884 became the "Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens" (International Sleeping Cars and Great European Expresses Company). At the time, the company had 58 sleeping cars.

The company logo depicts two lions facing each other and is reminiscent of the coat of arms of the Belgian royal family.

Nord-Express, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens



From 1922 onwards, the more resistant midnight-blue metal cars began to replace the old teak cars. In 1929, they became the norm.


The first restaurant car was built in 1882 and featured two separate dining rooms, each seating twelve. Salon cars were introduced in 1884, giving Nagelmackers trains the stamp of incomparable comfort.


The Grands Express Européens

L'oiseau Bleu, Train Pullman, Anvers Bruxelles Paris


CHF 4650.–

Over the years, Nagelmackers launched the Blue Train with its Pullman cars, the Sud-Express from Paris to Madrid and Lisbon, the Nord-Express to Scandinavia, Poland and Russia, and the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to China and Japan via Siberia. He even created the first hotel chain for his passengers, "Les Grands Hôtels des Wagons-Lits".

The Orient Express

On 10 October 1882, the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits launched an exceptional Paris-Vienna round trip in a luxury train called the "Train Éclair". Comprising four sleeping cars, a restaurant car and two bagage cars, the train linked the two capitals in 27 hours and 53 minutes. It was the first time the company had chartered its own train.

Following the success of this line, Georges Nagelmackers had the idea of extending the route to Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire.

On 5 June 1883, a first train left Paris bound for Constantinople (over 3'000 kilometres). For the first time in history, a rail convoy crossed the whole of Europe to link these two capitals.

Orient Express & Wagons-lits, Chemins de fer Orientaux de Constantinople à Paris en 63 heures

1898 – B. GEWIS


The official inauguration of the "Express d'Orient" took place on 4 October 1883 at the Gare de Strasbourg (now Gare de l'Est) in Paris. Leading figures from the world of politics and railways, as well as journalists and writers, were present. An elegant crowd also came to celebrate the event on the platform.

Forty passengers embarked on a thirteen-day journey in luxurious cars offering unparalleled service and comfort. The Orient Express was born!

Tickets were priced at 700 francs-or, making them accessible only to a wealthy clientele.

Inaugural menu on 4 October 1883: oysters, turbot with green sauce, chicken with chasseur sauce, venison "chaud-froid", chocolate cake, dessert buffet.

After five days in Constantinople, the passengers returned to Paris, arriving at 6am on 16 October 1883. The four-day journey was considerably faster than the two-week journey by ship from Marseille to the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The completion of the last section of the line on 1 June 1889 meant that the entire journey from Paris to Constantinople could be made by train.

In 1891, the "Express d'Orient" was officially renamed the "Orient Express" and became the most famous train in the world.

The 3'094 km journey takes 65 hours and is not yet direct. The convoy leaves Paris at 7.30pm for Giurgiu in Romania, via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. In Romania, passengers take a ferry across the Danube. Arriving in Bulgaria, a train brings them to Varna on the Black Sea, where they board the Espero, a steamship that will take them to Constantinople after about fifteen hours.

The first luxury cars produced by the company were made from teak wood, renowned for its durability. Heating, lighting and ventilation used the most modern technologies of the time. Lighting was first provided by gas, before electricity was introduced at the end of the 1880s using a dynamo system.

The Simplon Tunnel


Started in 1898, the work on the Simplon Tunnel was completed in 1906 for the opening of the Milan International Exhibition.

The digging of this tunnel greatly shortened journeys from Paris to Italy, and in 1919 allowed the Orient-Express to pass through from the south. This new route to Istanbul was faster and made it possible to avoid both crisis-stricken Germany and the instability of the Balkans following the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Exposition Internationale Milan 1906, Inauguration du tunnel du Simplon

1906 – Leopoldo METLICOVITZ


The tunnel was inaugurated on 19 May 1906 and the railway line went into service on 1 June of the same year. The Simplon Tunnel remained the longest railway tunnel in the world until 1982.

Simplon, Chemins de Fer PLM

1906 – Frédéric HUGO D'ALESI

CHF 2360.–

The Simplon-Orient-Express




After the First World War, the geopolitical situation prevented the Orient Express from returning to its original route through Germany.

In April 1919, a second route was opened thanks to the new Simplon tunnel drilled under the Alps between Switzerland and Italy. In less than two and a half days, the line linked Calais - and even London, thanks to a boat connection via Dover - to Constantinople via Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia.

Simplon-Orient-Express, Relations avec la Suisse, l'Italie & l'Orient

1921 – Joseph Porphyre PINCHON


This shorter route through southern Europe quickly became more popular than the northern route. The Orient-Express then took the name "Simplon-Orient-Express".

The latter now stops in Bucharest and no longer serves Constantinople directly. Although the connection is still shown on some posters, passengers had to transfer to other trains.

Simplon-Orient-Express, PLM

1922 circa – Roger BRODERS


In 1922, the teak cars were replaced by more comfortable metal cars, painted midnight blue with gold edging. The Art Deco interior decoration was entrusted to great artists such as the decorator René Prou, as well as Albert Dunn for the marquetry and René Lalique for the glasswork. The "Type LX" cars with private compartments for a single passenger were the most remarkable creations. Often called Wagons Pullman CIWL, in reference to the American manufacturer George Pullman, these luxury cars were in fact built in France by the Société Lorraine des anciens établissements de Dietrich.


In 1924, a third route was created, the "Suisse-Arlberg-Vienne". It linked Paris to Vienna via Zurich and Innsbruck.
In 1931, the line reached Budapest and Bucharest, then Athens in 1932. It was renamed the "Arlberg-Orient-Express".

Simplon-Orient-Express, Athènes

1926 – Joseph Daviel DE LA NEZIERE

CHF 6400.–

Poster designed by Joseph Daviel de la Nézière in 1926.

From 1930, the "Taurus-Express" line extended the route beyond the Bosporus.

Alep, Simplon-Orient-Express

1927 – Joseph Daviel DE LA NEZIERE


The Orient was no longer limited to Istanbul, and a major transcontinental link of almost 7'000 km was established between London and the Persian Gulf.

London - Baghdad in 8 days by Simplon Orient Express & Taurus Express, Safety Rapidity Economy

1931 – Roger BRODERS


The Simplon-Orient-Express after the war

Affiche Simplon Orient-Express

London - Paris - Lausanne - Simplon Tunnel - Milan - Venice - Belgrade - Sofia - Istanbul, with connections to Rome, Athens, Aleppo in Syria, Jerusalem, Cairo and Baghdad.

Simplon Orient-Express, la voie internationale la plus directe et la plus pittoresque

1947 – Walther SPINNER


After the Second World War, in 1947, the Simplon Orient-Express lines were re-opened.

That same year, a new network was launched, the Balt-Orient-Express, linking Scandinavia to the Balkans.

However, the lines entered a period of decline, and the original Orient-Express was stripped of its luxury train label in 1948.
In 1962, the Arlberg-Orient-Express and the Simplon-Orient-Express dropped their "Orient" designation and became normal trains.

Only the Direct Orient, which followed the route of the Simplon Express with ordinary carriages, now made the direct journey to Istanbul. The last direct journey took place in 1977.

For decades, the Orient Express would link London to Istanbul, via Paris, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia, thanks to the opening of the Simplon tunnel (see above), with connections to Athens, Baghdad and Cairo.

Trotsky, Marlene Dietrich or Agatha Christie, crowned heads or spies, all travelled on this mythical train.

The Orient Express stopped operating in 1977. Its carriages were bought back and completely renovated, and were back in service in 1982. The line would henceforth be known as the "Venice Simplon Orient-Express".

The Simplon line

The Simplon line links Lausanne to Brig.

It was built between 1857 and 1878 in several stages and sections by the Compagnie du Simplon.

In 1881, this company merged with the Compagnie de la Suisse occidentale, which in turn merged with the Compagnie du Jura-Berne-Lucerne in 1890 to create the Jura-Simplon company.

Starting in 1890, the Jura-Simplon railway company linked Paris to Italy via Vallorbe and the Simplon Pass. At that time, the pass was crossed by stagecoach.

The completion of the Simplon Tunnel, linking Brig to Iselle in Italy, finally enabled passengers to cross the Alps without changing trains.

Exposition Internationale Milan 1906, Inauguration du tunnel du Simplon

1906 – Leopoldo METLICOVITZ


Simplon, Chemins de Fer PLM

1906 – Frédéric HUGO D'ALESI

CHF 2360.–

Svizzera, Il Sempione

1910 circa – ANONYMOUS

CHF 1540.–

Ligne électrique du Simplon, Suisse

1925 – Daniele BUZZI

CHF 1690.–

Svizzera, La Linea elettrica del Sempione

1933 – Otto BAUMBERGER

CHF 1570.–

Ligne du Simplon, la plus directe, la plus pittoresque

1951 – Walther SPINNER

CHF 1630.–

As steam locomotives were a danger in the Simplon tunnel, the decision was taken to use the new three-phase alternating current technology, which was installed in the Simplon Tunnel in 1906. This enabled the first electric locomotives to run through the tunnel.

In 1924, the Lausanne-Sion section was converted to single-phase alternating current. In 1927, it was the turn of the Sion-Brigue section and, three years later, the Brigue-Iselle (Italy) section.

The Lötschberg Tunnel

The Lötschberg tunnel links the canton of Berne (Kandersteg) with the canton of Valais (Goppenstein). Work on the tunnel began in 1906, and the line was brought into service in 1913.

The connection with the Simplon tunnel created a fast route between north-western Europe and Italy.



CHF 2860.–

Berne - Loetschberg - Simplon, Suisse Switzerland


CHF 1490.–

Lago Azzuro presso Kandersteg, Ferrovia del Loetschberg

1927 – Ernst HODEL

CHF 4460.–


The Venice Simplon Orient-Express


The Orient-Express was discontinued in 1977, doomed by the fast and cheap travel offered by the airlines.

An American entrepreneur, James Sherwood, bought back a large number of the original cars, restored them and relaunched the Orient Express in 1982 under the name "Venice Simplon Orient-Express".

The Venice Simplon Orient-Express poster collection:

The first luxury service between London and Paris, via Brighton, was created in 1881 by the English Pullman Car Company, two years before the launch of the Orient Express by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits.

One hundred years later, Pierre Fix-Masseau created the first series of posters for the Venice Simplon Orient-Express.


Victoria Station London, Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Venice

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 570.–

< Glossy paper edition,
backed: CHFr. 570.-

Deluxe paper edition, >
backed on Japan paper: CHFr. 720.-

Victoria Station London, Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Venice

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 720.–


Paris, Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Milano Venezia

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 570.–

< Glossy paper edition,
backed: CHFr. 570.-

Deluxe paper edition, >
non-backed: CHFr. 570.-
backed on Japan paper: CHFr. 720.-

Paris, Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Milano Venezia

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 570.–

Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Venice

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 670.–

< Glossy paper edition,
backed: CHFr. 670.-

Deluxe paper edition >

Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Venice

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU


The Château de Chillon on the shores of Lake Geneva on the Simplon line

Venice Simplon Orient-Express, London Paris Venice, The Alps

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 740.–

< Glossy paper edition,
backed: CHFr. 740.-

Venice, the City of the Doges

Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Venice

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 640.–

< Glossy paper edition,
backed: CHFr. 640.-

Deluxe paper edition, >
backed on Japan paper: CHFr. 790.-

Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Venice

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 790.–

Venice Simplon Orient Express, London, Paris, Venice

1981 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 640.–

< Glossy paper edition,
backed: CHFr. 640.-


Opened in 1877, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is Italy's oldest still active shopping mall.

Milano, Venice Simplon Orient Express, London Paris Milano Venezia

1982 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 620.–

< Glossy paper edition,
backed: CHFr. 620.-

Collection Venice Simplon Orient-Express, Paris

1982 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 720.–

< Glossy paper edition,
non-backed: CHFr. 570.-
backed on Japan paper: CHFr. 720.-

Deluxe paper edition, >
62 x 39 cm
non-backed: CHFr. 340.-

Collection Venise Simplon Orient-Express, Paris

1982 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU

CHF 340.–

1983, the Orient-Express centenary

Centenaire de l'Orient-Express, Venice Simplon Orient-Express

1983 – Pierre FIX-MASSEAU


The Orient-Express celebrated its 100th anniversary with a poster designed by Fix-Masseau for the "Venice Simplon-Orient-Express" company.

< Deluxe paper edition,
backed on Japan paper

The new Venice Simplon Orient-Express logo


Venice Simplon Orient-Express

1990 circa – ANONYMOUS

CHF 430.–

Venice Simplon Orient-Express

1990 circa – ANONYMOUS

CHF 38.–

Venice Simplon Orient-Express

1990 circa – ANONYMOUS

CHF 430.–

Two modern, retro-style posters and a luggage label.

^ TOP ^

Copyright 2023 Galerie 1 2 3, JD Clerc & Yanouchka W. Sabbatini.

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