Searching for the key to Agatha Christie’s 11 unaccounted for days

Hello: Aussie travel expert David Ellis checks out what Istanbul's Pera Palace Hotel staff say is double agent Kim Philby's spy phone. Photo: Malcolm Andrews

Hello: Aussie travel expert David Ellis checks out what Istanbul's Pera Palace Hotel staff say is double agent Kim Philby's spy phone. Photo: Malcolm Andrews

TOURISTS have had to book months ahead to make sure of securing a room tonight, January 12, at Istanbul’s historic Pera Palace Hotel. And they had no chance of using any of those online booking sites such as tripadvisor.com. 

Luxurious: The opulent interior of Istanbul's Pera Palace Hotel, where many famous celebrities have stayed, including mystery writer Agatha Christie.

Luxurious: The opulent interior of Istanbul's Pera Palace Hotel, where many famous celebrities have stayed, including mystery writer Agatha Christie.

Instead they will have to wait until later in the year to sample the hotel’s incredible opulence as tonight is the anniversary of the death, in 1976, of one of the Pera Palace’s most famous guests, English mystery writer Agatha Christie.

During her lifetime she stayed there on many occasions and is said to have written Murder on the Orient Express in room 411. Indeed the room itself has become something of a shrine to her millions of avid fans. But unlike her yarns about Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, the best-selling author never explained an incredible mystery about herself.

Infamous guests: Many spies, double agents, literary figures, stars and politicians have passed through the doors of the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul.

Infamous guests: Many spies, double agents, literary figures, stars and politicians have passed through the doors of the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul.

In 1926, after a stay at the Pera Palace, she vanished for 11 days. She suddenly reappeared but, to the day she died, she refused to explain where she was, saying only to staff at the hotel: “The key to my disappearance will be found in my diary when I die”. Even so, no one has managed to work out the answer to this real-life who-dunnit.

The Pera Palace, which undertook a massive refurbishment about eight years ago, has recovered the glory it enjoyed at the beginning of the 20th Century. Back then the hotel was the meeting place for diplomats, millionaires, European royalty, famous authors...you name it...they all stayed there. 

It was officially opened in 1892, to cater for travellers on the Orient Express railway. Porters would meet the train at the railway station in the old city and carry the passengers in cushioned chairs to a wharf on the Golden Horn estuary, where they were rowed across the Bosphorus. Then an underground railway would transport them the minute-and- a-half journey through a tunnel to the hotel’s foyer.

Among other renowned people to have stayed at the hotel are: WWI spy Mata Hari and English double-agent Kim Philby. The phone he used to tap to get information is still sitting on the bar – so says  hotel management. Leon Trotsky, Ernest Hemmingway, and Greta Garbo are other famous guest; and room 411, remains a shrine to Agatha Christie. 

After Agatha died, the hotel owner brought in a clairvoyant who directed him to a key mysteriously hidden under a floorboard inside room 411. However there was no clue as to its background.

The mystery was revived when, after his death, the hotel staff found the former owner had locked the key in a secret compartment inside the hotel’s safe. But no one has discovered what lock it opens.

Everyone at the Pera Palace has a theory – maybe one of them is correct?

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