Orient-Express & Co: Itinerary of a Modern Myth

Orient-Express & Co: Itinerary of a Modern Myth
Luggage label for the route Paris-Rome-Express International Company of Wagons-LitsAnnées 1920-1930, ©Fonds de dotation Orient Express

Unique cultural exhibition exploring the iconic railway comes to Villa Medici

Crossing the borders of empires and states, wagons of the Orient-Express have witnessed and inspired countless  narratives. Bringing together over 200 photographic prints, historical documents and advertising posters, this exhibition explores the train as a transitional space full of possibilities, a place where adventures and tales balance between history and fiction. Curated by Eva Gravayat and Arthur Mettetal in collaboration with The French Academy in Rome, the exhibition will take place from 17 March to 21 May 2023 at the wonderful Villa Medici.

Navigating through history

From 1883, throughout the years of its operation, the Orient-Express, connecting Paris and Istanbul (Constantinople) became a symbol of the railway adventure. An engineering miracle, first of its kind, offering an impressive amount of delux services onboard built a unique cultural presence in literature and media of the 20th century. It was the first train in a series of International luxury trains and ran successfully for almost a century. 

The creation of the railway connecting Western Europe with the Oriental East was a huge diplomatic, economic and technical achievement of the time. From the second half of the 19th century, this railroad became one of the main communication routes in the world, thus making the Orient-Express ride one of the dreamiest travel experiences. Many artists, writers and explorers chasing inspiration in the East, popularized the idea of the Orient-Express journey and turned it into an urban legend. Wandering through the photo galleries of the exhibition, visitors will get a chance to learn some interesting historical facts about the railway and its passengers, as well as watch movie scenes showcasing the prominent media presence of the Orient-Express.   

Exterior view of the special Canteuropa-Express train and request for autographs from singers Claudio Villa (left) and Mino Reitano (right),
1972, ©Fonds de dotation Orient Express
Advertising photograph promoting the new ‘YC’ sleeping cars built in Italy by FIAT1958, ©Fonds de dotation Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

An English writer, Agatha Christie has contributed to the worldwide legacy of the Orient-Express. Her book Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934, initiated the interest of the artistic and literary community. The exhibition features a section dedicated to exploring the impact of this detective novel on the historical depiction of the rail journey. 

Beyond the myth

A fantasized image of the Orient Express eventually surpassed the point when all the rumors and fictional stories became so popular that the general public started confusing the real historical facts. This part of the exhibition reveals all the engineering nuances of a luxury train, bringing it back to reality. A complex network of workshops and services behind the scenes that allowed passengers to enjoy their long-term travels, socialize and create a community onboard. Exploring the series of photo cards and documents from the archives of the former Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, visitors can witness the daily life of the launderers, cabinetmakers, boilermakers, and other crew members onboard. 

Orient-Express & Cie. Itinerary of a modern myth exhibition view, Ph. ©Daniele Molajoli


The Rome-Express, introduced in 1883, a few months after the launch of the European transcontinental, was one of the most prestigious train services along with the Orient-Express. It covered the 1,446 kilometers between Paris and Rome, running along the picturesque coasts of the French and Italian Riviera, Ponente and Levante provinces. The archives and photographs that recorded this Franco-Italian railway adventure are displayed as one of the components of the exhibition.

The exhibition also features works of the French photographer Sarah Moon and sound docu-drama by French novelist Mathias Enard. As an extension of the exhibition, there are several events and workshops exploring the themes of adventure and travel scheduled on March 30, April 13th and May 5th, you can check the schedule here

Orient-Express & Cie. Itinerary of a modern myth exhibition view, Ph. ©Daniele Molajoli

Until May 21st 2023

Viale Trinità dei Monti, 1

Opening times:
Monday- Sunday 10am-7pm

Tickets: €10 (reduced €8)

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