All Aboard!

by Danilo Brunetti

A new exhibit at Villa Medici invites visitors to step aboard a voyage of romance, luxury, and adventure. Tiffany Parks leads the way.

The shrill blow of a conductor’s whistle, the rumble of wheels, and a flash of unmistakable blue as that train of all trains pulls into the station: the Orient Express. What traveler has not dreamed of stepping aboard that shining locomotive at least once in their lives, to be whisked off on a luxurious adventure to somewhere romantic and perhaps even dangerous? The almost unaffordable prices make such a trip a reality for only the lucky few, but thanks to a new exhibit at the Villa Medici, the seat of the French Academy in Rome, curious travel-lovers and romantics alike can step into this exclusive world where adventure awaits beyond every curve of the tracks and the person seated beside you might well be a movie star or your long-lost twin.

The Orient Express is in fact a rarity: a technical object that has become a cultural icon, one crystallized by a multitude of narratives and representations based on true or imagined stories, from Agatha Christie to Graham Greene, from James Bond to Jules Verne. However, before becoming a literary and cinematographic touchstone, the Orient-Express was the first of a series of international luxury trains created by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-lits. In operation from 1883 to 1977, it whisked lucky voyagers from Paris to Constantinople, before branching out to other itineraries. Less well known but every bit as luxurious was the Rome Express, a large and prestigious train of the same company that traveled the 1,446 kilometers between Paris and Rome, first skirting the French and then the Italian rivieras.

Orient-Express & Cie: Itinerary of a Modern Legend is the first exhibit of its kind, presenting photographs and documents from the company’s archives, including plans, maps, technical drawings, and vintage advertising posters, over 200 pieces that place the Orient Express in its global historical context.