ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ The tourists come by the hundreds, asking to check in or at least peek at the rooms _ especially 411, where Agatha Christie wrote ``Murder on the Orient Express.''

They apparently don't mind if the quarters at Pera Palas hotel are a bit rundown. They're alive with intrigue, romance and history.

Mata Hari, Greta Garbo, King Edward VII and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis are among the famous that have stayed overnight.

But the attractive atmosphere could vanish, the hotel management says, if the ministry of culture succeeds in turning the Pera into a museum.

``It would never be the same,'' Hasan Suzer, chairman of the board of a foundation that owns the hotel, said this week. ``It is unique in the world. They would kill it.''

But the head of the city's cultural affairs department said the government's goal is to save the hotel, which was registered as a historic monument last year.

``Our aim is to preserve the hotel for future generations,'' Yasar Karayel said. ``The hotel will remain functioning but some of the rooms will be cordoned off.''

The foundation has filed suit to try to stop the ministry plan. Similar moves in the past to turn the hotel into a museum have failed.

Suzer said that all of the 145 rooms at Pera have been occupied by someone famous at one time or another.

The hotel was built in 1892 for the customers of the Orient Express who traveled from Paris to Constantinople, as Istanbul was called then. They stayed at the Pera until proceeding farther east to Baghdad and beyond.

The building, considered a splendid example of Ottoman architecture, overlooks the picturesque Golden Horn, an inlet of the Marmara Sea.

The most sought-after room is the one where Christie stayed between 1926 and 1932. ``There is so much demand for it but we rarely like to let it out,'' Suzer said.

In her diary, the author wrote that the answer to her mysterious 11-day disappearance from public view in 1926 could be found in room 411. It is believed that a rusty old key found in the room and now kept in a bank vault might some day help solve the mystery.

Though the rooms remain drab and in need of restoration, the ballroom, pastry shop and bar have been elegantly restored.

The glass-domed Agatha Christie Hall is adorned with Turkish carpets, old chandeliers and comfortable armchairs.

For now, only the room once occupied by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish republic, is not let out. His Panama hat and other belongings are on display.