EXPERIENCES: Christie & the Pera Palace Hotel
In addition to collecting books, art and memorabilia, part of the joy in the world of Agatha Christie can be found by following in her footsteps. Christie was a renowned traveller, and many of her excursions provided the raw material for her novels. The Murder on the Orient Express is arguably one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels. Its material came from both the news of the era and Christie’s own experience travelling aboard the Orient Express to Istanbul for the first time in 1928.
In that time, most travellers from the Orient Express would stay at the Pera Palace Hotel which was built in 1892 for the explicit purpose of hosting its passengers. In addition to Christie, the hotel has had many notable guests including Queen Elizabeth II, Edward VIII, Greta Garbo, Emperor Franz Joseph, Alfred Hitchcock, Ernest Hemingway and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country’s late president, who is widely revered as the founder of modern Turkey.
While it is not known with certainty, it is widely claimed that Christie likely penned the outline of Murder on the Orient Express while staying at the hotel after her journey. While this is the main connection between Christie and the hotel, a more fanciful story must be referenced.
In 1979, director Michael Apted wanted to reimagine Christie’s 11-day disappearance in 1926 in his feature film “Agatha” starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman. As little was known about the 11 days, Apted decided to arrange a séance using the services of Hollywood-based medium and clairvoyant Tamara Rand to try to connect with Christie. During the séance, Rand saw Christie on train going to Istanbul with a diary she had locked with a key. She then entered Room 411 at the Pera Palace Hotel and hid the key and diary beneath the floorboards. A crew from Warner Bros, along with the press and support from the hotel later searched the room and did in fact find a key – but there was no diary. The key continues to lie in a bank vault under the possession of the hotel. However, Apted choose not to use the idea of an escape to Istanbul as part of the film about her disappearance.
The Pera Palace continues to be an essential place to visit for the fan of Christie who wants to follow in her footsteps. The hotel was recently renovated and included in the improvements was room 411, now named the “Agatha Christie Room”, with fitting tributes to Christie throughout. These include a library with Agatha's books published in several languages, a replica of the typewriter used by the author, antique furniture that reflects the spirit of the period, and a collection of photos and memorabilia.
In October 2015, the Pera Palace Hotel joined in the 125th anniversary celebrations of Agatha Christie by hosting a crime week festival. Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson, attended the celebration and participated in various discussions. A stay in the room can be booked directly through the hotel’s website and costs vary, but are commonly in the €400-700 per night range.
Collectibles: Aside from the experience of a visit to the hotel, room and restaurant, the Pera Palace Hotel did manufacturer an ‘Agatha Christie 411’ key chain for collectors, shown here with a key similar in design to the one found in the room after the séance. Occasionally these key chains show up for sale on auction sites and can generally be obtained for €10-20. So very affordable. The key (pardon the pun) is to find one for sale. Other items to collect would be plates, silverware or hotel branded items from its earlier period.