hidden europe 64

The lure of the Orient

by hidden europe

Picture above: The rail network of the Ottoman Empire gave connections to the Levant, Mesopotamia and even Arabia. The Hedjaz Railway, remnants of which are pictured here, ran to Medina (photo © Cinar Yilancioglu / dreamstime.com).


Fifty years ago adventurous travellers were heading off from Europe to ride the Taurus Express or to explore a desert bus route which linked three capital cities.

In 1971, Europe’s youth were on the move. It was the heyday of the overland trip to India. Many travellers made their own way in whatever second-hand van or truck they could lay their hands on. Others travelled by bus. Few relied on the railways. But, for those who did take the train, the Taurus Express from Istanbul to Baghdad was a key link. And that’s just what the great pioneers of international rail travel had foreseen. The Taurus Express was pioneered in the 1930s by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits as a natural eastern extension to the Orient Express which from 1889 ran from Paris to Istanbul.

Fifty years ago, the Orient Express had already been cut back to Bucharest, but a related service called the Direct-Orient Express, which routed via Belgrade and Sofia rather than Bucharest, still conveyed twice-weekly Wagons-Lits sleeping cars from Paris to Istanbul. From Istanbul’s Sirkeci station it was a short hop on the ferry over to Haydarpaşa for the onward Taurus Express service to Baghdad. But for many travellers half a century ago, Baghdad was merely an intermediate stop on a much longer journey.

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