Originally published in 1937, Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile is among her most famous novels. Featuring the famous detective Hercule Poirot and an array of fascinating characters, the dramatic events of the murder mystery take place against the backdrop of some of Egypt’s most stunning sites.
From the famous and still-popular Old Cataract Hotel to the ancient carvings of Abu Simbel and Luxor Temple, we’ve put together a guide to some of the key locations from the novel, plus a few that have featured in film adaptations in the time since. So, as Poirot would have done, get your “little grey cells” in action and start investigating.
1. Old Cataract Hotel
Located in Aswan in a spectacular position overlooking the Nile, the Old Cataract Hotel was built in 1899 by Thomas Cook and Sons shortly after the 1898 construction of the Cairo-Aswan railway, which led to an influx of visitors with nowhere to stay. The hotel was catapulted to fame when Agatha Christie used it as the backdrop of her famous novel Death on the Nile in 1937. Over the years, it has housed figures such as Tsar Nicholas II, Winston Churchill and Princess Diana.
Today, the hotel is a hugely popular destination. The Palace Wing houses 76 rooms and 45 suites, while the Nile Wing has 62 rooms and 37 suites, all with a balcony and river view.
Known as Ramesses the Great (sometimes spelt Ramses), Ramesses II is one of the most famous Egyptian pharaohs and formed part of the Nineteenth Dynasty. From 1279 BC, he built the temples at Abu Simbel as a way to immortalise himself, a feat he certainly seems to have achieved with these two vast structures and the large statues of himself which guard it. The temples were carved directly into the sandstone outcrops located on the west bank of the Nile River, south of Aswan in the land of Nubia.
One of the most startling sights at Abu Simbel is the main hall of the Great Temple. In Death on the Nile, the character Linnet narrowly avoids being crushed to death by a large boulder that falls from a cliff. It’s suspected that someone pushed it on purpose…
3. Steam Ship Sudan
Built by the famous travel entrepreneur Thomas Cook in the early 1900s, the Steam Ship Sudan is one of the oldest and grandest cruise ships still offering cruises down the Nile. Its classical design and furnishings are reminiscent of the luxury that passengers would have enjoyed during the heady days of early-20th-century tourism in Egypt.
Agatha Christie herself travelled on the steamer, and was so enthralled by her time on board that she based Death on the Nile on it. Indeed, various adaptations of the novel have been filmed aboard the SS Sudan. Today, journeys aboard the ship travel down the picturesque Nile and stop at the array of temples, tombs and archaeological sites that line the river’s banks and its surrounding regions.
Within the pyramid complex at Giza are the pyramids of Pharaohs Khufu, Khafra and Menkaure. The largest pyramid in Giza – and the world – belongs to the second king of the Fourth Dynasty, Khufu or ‘Cheop’. Khufu’s pyramid is Giza’s oldest and, at its great size of 145 metres, became known as ‘The Great Pyramid’. In fact, Khufu’s pyramid was once the tallest structure in the world as well as being one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The 1978 film adaptation of Death on the Nile features shots of the Pyramids of Giza. At the time the film was released, an exhibition titled ‘The Treasures of Tutankhamun’ proved popular, and in addition, the film featuring sites such as the Pyramids of Giza helped re-awaken interest in ancient Egypt amongst the general public.
The Karnak Temple, or rather the complex of temples of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt, is one of the most impressive ancient Egyptian sites and once formed part of the city of Thebes. It also appeared in the 1978 film adaptation of Death on the Nile, when the party make an on-shore excursion to the Temple of Karnak. While there, a large stone is pushed off a pillar which narrowly misses the Doyles.
Sprawling over 2 square kilometres, the site known as the Karnak Temple was built in dedication to the god Amun and expanded by a succession of pharaohs, from those of the Middle Kingdom (1965-1920 BC) to the Ptolemaic dynasty (305-30 BC). The result is an incredible maze of temples, sanctuaries, sphinxes, columns and pylons amidst other ancient buildings and its name translates in Arabic as ‘fortified village’. One of the most important and impressive sites at the Karnak Temple complex is the Temple of Amun-Ra, with its world famous Great Hypostyle Hall.
6. Great Sphinx of Giza
The Great Sphinx of Giza is one of the most recognisable relics of ancient Egypt. One of the world’s largest monuments at 20 metres high and 73 metres long, it is a staggering 4,500 years old, since historians generally agree that it was built for the Pharaoh Khafre sometime between 2603-2578 BC. Residue of red, yellow and blue pigments suggests that the Sphinx was once brightly painted. Originally cut from the bedrock, today the Sphinx’s original shape has been restored with layers of limestone.
The Great Sphinx of Giza features in the 1978 film adaptation of Death on the Nile, and is even the main image on the UK theatrical release poster advertising the film.