Agatha Christie Lived in Baghdad

Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie doesn’t need any introduction. I grew up reading the detective novels of the British writer, who authored 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author.

Throughout her life, Agatha Christie published 66 detective novels. Roughly two billion copies have been sold worldwide, making her the best-selling novelist of all time.

Did you know that Agatha Christie, the famous author of mystery novels, stayed in Baghdad for several months in the 1930s? It’s true! She was fascinated by the ancient city and its rich culture, and she even wrote some of her books there. In this blog post, I will tell you more about her adventures in Iraq and how they influenced her writing.

The house where Agatha Christie used to stay in Baghdad on the bank of the Tigris river is seen from the window of our office on the other side of the river.
Our office building can be seen on the far side of the river.

I did not know that the ‘Queen of Crime Literature’ ever stayed in Baghdad. I read her novels based on Iraq, but it never hit me that she would have lived in Iraq. After a devastating divorce, she took a trip to Baghdad in 1928 and lost her heart — to the ancient sites of Iraq and archaeologist Max Mallowan.

At age 39, Agatha decided that a solitary holiday in the West Indies might help her recover from the breakup. But two days before leaving, she had dinner at a friend’s house in London where she met a couple who had recently returned from Baghdad. Christie was utterly seduced by their tales of the Middle East: the bazaars of Mosul and Basra and the fascinating ruins of ancient Ur, which, thanks to the sensational discoveries unearthed by British archaeologist Leonard Woolley, were being widely reported in the newspapers.

The most obvious way to travel there was by steamboat — but there was another option: the Orient Express, the train that took travellers to Baghdad via Milan and Istanbul. The prospect of such a journey was a turning point in Christie’s life. The next day, she cancelled her ticket to Jamaica and bought one for Baghdad.

Agatha Christie first visited Iraq in 1928, when she accompanied her second husband, Max Mallowan, an archaeologist who was working on a dig near Ur. She was enchanted by the land and its people, and she soon became a regular visitor. She also explored the country, visiting places like Babylon, Nineveh, and Mosul. They stayed at a luxurious and elegant house on the bank of the river Tigris in Karrada Maryam (one of the oldest areas of the capital, Baghdad).

But her favorite place was Baghdad, the capital city that had been the center of many empires and civilizations. She loved the contrast between the modern and the ancient, the bustling markets and the serene gardens, the mosques and the palaces. She also made friends with some local women, who invited her to their homes and taught her about their customs and traditions.

She also accompanied her husband to various archaeological sites, such as Ur, Nineveh, and Nimrud. She helped him with his work, taking photographs, cleaning and restoring artifacts, and even writing labels for them. She was fascinated by the ancient civilizations and cultures of Mesopotamia.

When mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote, “We found the woman in the well! They brought her in on a piece of sacking, a great mass of mud,” she was not describing the murder victim in her latest bestseller. The detectives trying to identify the woman were not the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot nor the English dowager Jane Marple, as per the National Geographic.

Mona Lisa of Nimrud, 8th century BCE

The woman in question was not a person at all, but an artefact retrieved as part of an archaeological dig. Christie was describing the ivory mask, now nicknamed the “Mona Lisa of Nimrud”, which was discovered in 1952 during the excavations that were being carried out in the ancient Assyrian capital of Calah in modern-day Iraq — known now by the name of Nimrud.

Christie’s second husband, Max Mallowan, was the lead investigator, and the “detectives” in this case were not police officers, but archaeologists. Christie was assisting Mallowan in the collection, cleaning, and storage of artefacts on the dig.

She loved Iraq so much that she returned several times over the years. She considered it her second home and wrote fondly about it in her memoirs and letters. She said that Iraq gave her inspiration, happiness, and peace.

Agatha Christie used her experiences in Iraq as inspiration for some of her novels: The Gate of Baghdad (1933), Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), Appointment with Death (1938), Absent in the Spring (1944), and They Came to Baghdad (1951).

In these books, she captured the atmosphere and the mystery of the city, as well as the political and social issues of the time. She also created some memorable characters based on the people she met there, such as Colonel Race, a British intelligence officer, and Victoria Jones, a young adventurer.

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, or just curious about her life and travels, you should definitely check out her books and stories set in Iraq. You will discover a different side of her and a fascinating country that has a rich history and culture.

Agatha Christie’s stay in Baghdad was not only a source of enjoyment and creativity for her, but also a way of escaping from the troubles of her life in England. She had gone through a painful divorce from her first husband, who had cheated on her with a younger woman. She had also faced a lot of criticism and pressure from the public and the media, who expected her to produce more and more books. In Iraq, she found peace and happiness, and she felt free to be herself.

Agatha Christie was one of the most prolific and popular writers of all time. She wrote over 80 novels and short stories, many of which have been adapted into movies and TV shows. She is best known for her detective stories featuring Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, but she also wrote romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She was a master of plot twists and suspense, and she kept her readers guessing until the end.

But Agatha Christie was not only a writer; she was also a traveler, an explorer, and a lover of life. She had a curious and adventurous spirit that led her to discover new places and cultures. And one of those places was Baghdad, where she left a lasting mark on its history and literature.

The house, where she stayed, is in very bad shape and now needing urgent repair. It did not receive any restoration or maintenance during all these decades, and some families inhabited it for successive periods of rent before its owners decided to close it and offer it for sale. The house is however registered as a heritage building.

10 thoughts on “Agatha Christie Lived in Baghdad

  1. Nilanjana Moitra

    That’s nice! I also didn’t know that Agatha Christie was in Iraq while writing her novels. I love the story that archaeologists were made police and the “Mona Lisa of Nimrud” as the murder victim.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The travel by OE probably gave her the plot idea for MOTOE which with its brilliant narrative and detection process remains one my favourite stories…
    I have read somewhere that she had lived in the middle East but didn’t know it was in your adopted city of Baghdad ‼️😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow! Like you, I have read quite a few of her works during my teen years. Living in Baghdad almost sounds like a plot from one of her books. Exciting. I hope the local authorities do something to protect the dwelling. It could become a tourist attraction.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Manojit

    Lovely. I never knew Agatha Christie lived in Baghdad and that her second husband was an archeologist. Like Aranjit said I also feel that she must have got the plot of Murder in the Orient Express after she travelled to Iraq by OE. This reminds me that she wrote another thriller known as Murder in Mesopotamia. I did not have the opportunity to read it, but I now understand how did she get the plot. Courtesy her archaeologist husband.

    Liked by 1 person

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