How to Explore Egypt Like Agatha Christie

Literary Tours in Egypt owes no small debt to legendary writer Agatha Christie. Depending on who’s adding up the numbers, it seems that Christie may be the best-selling novelist ever. In fact, only Shakespeare and the Bible have sold more copies than her. But of the 77 books Agatha Christie wrote, it was Death of the Nile that inspired much of Literary Tours Egypt’s incredible tours. While we explore the paths other authors have taken through this ancient land, it’s Christie’s real and fictional journey through Egypt that has excited and delighted so many of our guests. Today, we will discuss how you can explore Egypt, following in the footsteps of Agatha Christie.

Christie Didn’t Fall in Love with Egypt Straight Away

A more romantic article might declare that Agatha Christie fell in love with Egypt instantly and that the country inspired her for the rest of her life. But this simply isn’t true. She first visited Egypt in 1910, when she was twenty years old, and while it seems she enjoyed it, she didn’t even see the River Nile and she only briefly visited the spectacular Cairo Museum. Staying in Cairo’s Gezira Palace, Christie no doubt enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle during her 3-month visit to Egypt, but she did not explore the ancient places that would feature so heavily in her masterpiece Death on the Nile. If you want to stay where she stayed, however, the Gezira Palace is now the Cairo Marriott.

Christie’s Return to Egypt

The Nile at Aswan
The Nile at Aswan

It was 20 years later that Christie returned to Egypt, and it was then, at the age of forty, that she discovered what makes this country so special. This was Christie’s original Nile cruise experience, and it made enough of an impression that she wrote one of her greatest mystery novels about it. Needless to say, there is no record that any murders occurred on the SS Sudan on which Christie cruised the Nile, but there is something about the riverside and the ancient tombs and temples as you travel southward that would inspire any writer!

If you’d like to spend a night or two in the hotel Christie stayed in Aswan, check out the Old Cataract l, which is run by Sofitel today. This beautiful building is on Abtal El Tahir Street. With views of the Nile, it’s easy to imagine that this is where she first started writing Death on the Nile.

Elephantine Island Undoubtedly Inspired Agatha Christie

The Nile
Elephantine Island on the Nile

Not far from the Cataract Hotel, you’ll find Elephantine Island; it is an island on the Nile shaped like an elephant’s tusk that was said to be the home of the ram-headed god Khnum, who managed the flow of water along the River Nile. Two other gods were also worshipped on Elephant Island: Anuket and Satis. Satis was the goddess of war, but also of fertility. Anuket was her daughter. Given the role Elephantine Island featured in the book, we know she visited it — not least because she describes it so well. Visit the island to see the remains of the Temple of Khnum on the southern tip of the island. There are lots of things to explore, but many of the ancient treasures found on Elephantine Island were moved and are now displayed in Aswan Museum.

Seeing Abu Simbel as Agatha Christie Did

The spectacular Abu Simbel Temple
The spectacular Abu Simbel Temple

Abu Simbel is another place you have to visit if you’re dedicated to seeing Egypt as Christie did. This town and temple in southern Egypt is very close to the border with Sudan. The temple at Abu Simbel is magnificent and archaeologists are able to estimate that it took roughly twenty years to construct. Avid readers and scholars of Egyptology will delight in telling you that it was constructed by Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great — an honorific well deserved given that he ruled Ancient Egypt for over 66 years, through its most prosperous time (from 1279 BC to 1213 BC). When you visit Abu Simbel, make sure you reread Chapter 3 of Death on the Nile, as this is when the ship, Karnak, reaches Abu Simbel. And the mention of the boat leads us on to the S.S. Karnak…

The S.S. Karnak

Obelisks at Karnak
Obelisks at Karnak

The SS Sudan is the real river cruise steamer that inspired Christie’s SS Karnak that features in Death on the Nile. The SS Sudan is a real boat that Christie and her husband travelled on in 1933. It’s impossible to be any closer to Christie’s experience of Egypt than to spend some time on the boat that made her travels through Egypt possible. The SS Sudan still runs today, and it even has a special suite named after the legendary writer. 

The fictitious version of the steamer, the SS Karnak, is named after the Karnak Temple Complex — the vast network of temples, obelisks, towers, and buildings not far from Luxor. For many, this is the greatest example of Egyptian structures, rivalling even the Pyramids of Giza. While Hercule Poirot didn’t visit Karnak himself, it inspired the naming of the steamer and it’s a brilliant addition to any Egypt tour. The highlight for most is the Obelisk of Hatshepsut. Comprising one complete piece of pink granite, it is 28.58 metres tall and weighs 343 tonnes. This is a spectacle you won’t soon forget!

I hope this blog has answered a few questions about Egypt and Agatha Christie’s travels here. It’s no surprise to anyone who has visited Egypt that Christie was inspired by her time here. There is nowhere else like Egypt and everyone at Literary Tours in Egypt was extremely pleased and excited to create our Death on the Nile tours. If you’d like to book your own Death on the Nile Egypt holiday and you have a few questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!