Pera Diaries

Book One: Land of the Blind:

The renowned Venetian explorer Marco Polo once said: ‘I have not told half of what I saw’. This is the story of Ran and Lusin Eltanin, the twins who found the diary in which he told the other half of what he saw.

Ran Eltanin is a 12-year old student at Dandolo College, a 9th century boarding school in Venice. One day he finds what appears to be Marco Polo’s secret diary in the school library. On the pages of this journal the Venetian explorer and traveller of the mysterious East wrote the secrets he had not wanted to tell anybody about, and he also wrote down the name of the secret place in Venice where he had stored his rare treasures. When Ran discovers that Polo’s stash is in Dandolo College’s dilapidated tower, he immediately goes to investigate. Finding the concealed room below the tower isn’t difficult. The room is full of bows, swords, chests crammed with jewellery, a mummy and a scroll of papyrus. Looking at the papyrus he realizes that it is a map of a lost country. On the map is written, ‘The Land of the Blind’. There is a pyramid in the middle. Before the boy’s eyes the old Greek letters glitter on the papyrus: ‘Its atmosphere is one of death and darkness…’

Before Ran Eltanin has a chance to solve the mystery of the map, he and his twin sister find themselves in the headmaster’s office. The twins are told that their parents, both archaeologists, have gone missing in one of Yemen’s deserts. The school administration decides to dispatch the children to their great-uncle in Istanbul and puts them on the train. Their great-uncle, Captain Barnekas, is an old sailor who owns Pera Palace, one of the first hotels in Istanbul. It has hundreds of rooms and a past that probably goes back centuries.

Book Two: Hotel of Secrets:

11 days of celebrated English author Agatha Christie’s life have remained a mystery. Apparently a key hidden in Room 411 of Pera Palace will open the door to the secret of those 11 days. This book tells the story of the three children who find that key and open the door to the secret. They are the Eltanin twins and Hakan, a young boy who is staying in Pera Palace with his father and who is a member of the branch of Vikings living in Istanbul.  

From the moment Ran and Lusin Eltanin step into the hotel, they find themselves in the midst of a puzzle, hundreds of pieces scattered around the different rooms. Here, clearly, there is a mystery to be solved!

Secret passages, stairs leading to who-knows-where, rooms no one knew about… This is Pera Palace. But first, some history:

Built in 1892 on top of a hill known as Little Europe, Pera Palace, while never lacking in fame, went on to become the 20th century’s most celebrated hotel of the Near East. The names of the famous people who stayed in the hotel are written on the doors of their respective rooms, and these rooms have been left exactly as they were when their famous guests departed, guests including Greta Garbo, Ernest Hemingway, Shah Pehlevi, Pierre Loti, Isadora Duncan, Mata Hari and of course Agatha Christie, the writer of Murder on the Orient Express, a classic rumoured to have been penned here. It’s as if time has stopped in the rooms. In Room 530, decorated in the flamboyant gold and lilac tones of the Dutch spy Mata Hari, there are statues of elephants and Hindu gods, and Hemingway’s straw hat has been in his room ever since he checked in as a war correspondent. Graham Greene left his spectacles and a bottle of whisky here, where he wrote Stamboul Train. Greta Garbo was spirited away in a coffin through the back door to elude the paparazzi; meanwhile her room, with its clawfoot tub and magnificent clothes, remains just like a film set. Although cobwebs hang from the corners and thick dust covers the priceless furniture, these rooms that once hosted the Sultan of Zanzibar and eleven other kings and now serve only a handful of eccentric guests, still retain their former glory.

While the twins are having their first breakfast in the hotel, a boy called Hakan comes to their table; he has something to tell them:

The hotel has a secret.

A tiny key has been found in room 411, the room where Agatha Christie, the English crime-writer, stayed in the late 1920s. The word is that it opens a door which reveals an important secret.

The children decipher an encrypted message written in the first edition of one of the novels in Agatha Christie’s room by typing the letters out on an altered typewriter. This message leads them to the other clues distributed in various rooms of Pera Palace. Eventually, they reach a doll house in the hotel’s forgotten attic and found a letter written in Agatha Christie’s own hand! The last clue will take them to the greatest secret of whole world: The meaning of Istanbul!

Book Three: The Custodian of the Seals

Date: 19 January 1909. The Ottoman Empire’s first archaeologist, the painter and intellectual Osman Hamdi Bey, records his last message on a gramophone record in a secret room under Chora Church. He says that he is the Custodian of the Seals and that his successor can find the hidden seals by listening to the recorded message. This book is about Ran Eltanin, Osman Hamdi Bey’s successor, becoming the last custodian of the seals of the city of sultans, Istanbul.

Once upon a time, the district of Pera was a Venetian and Genoese trade colony in the Byzantine Empire. In Ottoman times it was the haunt of foreign artists, diplomats, bankers, and adventurers, not to mention some very weird looking mystics. The latter believed that Pera held history’s greatest secret. They said that there were ruins from an old city under the hill upon which the district had been constructed.

And that this was the location of the world’s first pyramid.

Ran Eltanin has passed through a gap under Pera Palace and reached the ruins of an abandoned underground city, which he realizes is the Land of the Blind. The pyramid of the Land of the Blind towers behind a forest consisting of fossilized trees that resemble flowers left to dry between the leaves of a thick book, seemingly in deep sleep. Three blindfolded female statues standing at its door, giving him the impression that the pyramid is a temple of prophecy. The pedestals each have an inscription: ‘Existed once upon a time’, ‘Now lost until eternity’, ‘At a time soon to return’. Having solved the difficult riddle to open the door of the pyramid, Ran enters and passes through serpentine tunnels reaching the Hall of Prophecy. Here he finds the head priestess of the Land of the Blind standing before him. She tells him that there is a city on the threshold to Istanbul’s underground. She says that one by one the seals of the gates have broken and that if a hero cannot be found, the Pharaoh who is the ruler of the underground, will wake up and conquer the world once more. Then she also mentions the mysterious belief called the First Fable. The First Fable, which was imbued by a mystic power deriving from the source of life, used to be in one piece, but after a great disaster it was smashed into a thousand and one pieces and vanished. A last hero must be found to reassemble the Fable. And the priestess says that the only person who can do that is Ran Eltanin, no one else. She tells him that first of all he has to find the seals keeping the gates between Istanbul and the underground closed and she reads the prophecy explaining the whereabouts of the seals. ‘It’s the temple in the space outside Constantine’s walls… if you find it, it’s the devil’s key.’

Meanwhile an extraordinary event takes place in Istanbul. Trying to ignore the changes happening to her body because of the three-headed snake fossil marked in her palm when she wakes up in the attic room in the Pera Palace hotel, Lusin descends the hidden staircase to the Great Salon. Just as she is about to serve breakfast she notices that the hotel guests are looking out of the window in a state of great agitation. A giant octopus-like monster is prowling just below the surface off Haydarpaşa train station. All the newspapers are also writing about the monster. It turns out that the previous day, the arms of the creature, deemed the Haydarpaşa Monster, caused a ferry full of passengers to capsize. It is now followed by a second monster, a tornado named Karakoncalos.

The seals that protected the city thousands of years are weakened. Istanbul needs a new custodian of the seals and this person can no one other than Ran. He has to find the place between two worlds.

Book Four: The City of Ice

Viking marks scratched in the marble in the Imperial Byzantine church, Hagia Sophia. One says ‘Halfdan was here’, another one has depictions of a small Viking ship. But what was it that brought the Vikings down to Istanbul from their northern homelands? They were Byzantine’s Pelekyphoroi Barbaroi, or axe-bearing barbarians. They became the Byzantine emperor’s personal guardsmen. Even King Harald, the Viking king, had been a member of this guard. But they had not travelled to Istanbul just for fairy tale treasures. They believed that this was the place referred to in their prophecies. They were trying to reach a mystery that even went beyond their wildest dreams: Valhalla, the hall where their dead heroes went… This book is the story of the Eltanin twins’ search for the world’s oldest city, a place that appears even in the legends of their Viking friends.

On the first day of the end of the world ice begins to float into the Bosporus. Some sailors think they see chalk-white ghosts emerge from cracks in the floating ice under the water. These bloodcurdling creatures look like pale, old, sea witches with very long hair drifting along behind them like white seaweed. When these ghostlike witches known as Akbasans silently emerge from the sea and creep like white shadows into the streets of the city, everything begins to go wrong. The white icy ghosts adhere to the walls in the city and come in through the windows. They catch people when they are asleep and freeze them by blowing their cold breath down their throats. At the end of that day, the lovely body of water known as the Bosporus slowly begins to get buried under ice, just like the buildings on the shores of the Golden Horn that sink like huge luxury ocean liners. Music can be heard from the salons of the city’s oldest and most ostentatious hotel, the Pera Palace. People do not notice that the floor is turning ice cold. The hands of the white ghosts are coming out of the walls, catching them. One by one people are turning to ice.

By evening Istanbul becomes a city of ice. The only ones who do not freeze are the mysterious underground people known as the Miners, as well as the three children protected by the amulets furnished by the gypsies, wolves, crows and seagulls and some people who knew what was awaiting them and so had hidden in the secret shelters of the city.

That night when Lusin fainted her grandmother Mihrimah Eltanin, who used to be a visitor to the house that once belonged to Vallaury, took her for treatment to an institution called Kozmidion in the district of Eyüp. This was also a school where Istanbul’s oldest families met and were taught ancient wisdom. Granny Eltanin tells Lusin about old Istanbul, about how in those days the first families of the city united to destroy a cruel Pharaoh, and had sunk his palace into the sea. She explains that the Pharaoh got his power from a fossil just like the one on Lusin’s hand, a seraph. When Lusin asks more about the three-headed snake she learns that the fossil will be changing her. It is very difficult to resist its spell.

The fossil is turning her into a dragon.

Meanwhile Ran and Rudabe, his Iranian friend in the hotel, are confined to the attic. Hakan and his wolves are fighting the Akbasans who are trying to seize the hotel. Crows and seagulls are standing by the windows of the attic preventing the ice ghosts from entering. Later the gypsies come rushing to help them. The gypsy king named Kashmir, whom they met in the train coming to Istanbul, gets the children out of the attic in a hot air balloon.

The balloon takes them to the dome of the old, deserted building of German Oriental bank. Ran, Hakan and Rudabe use the bank card and number Lusin had found in the box in Vallaury’s house to open one of the safes, in which they find three dice. In Marco Polo’s journal they read his reference to a time travel game and that Hagia Sophia in fact was actually constructed as a kind of chest intended to conceal this ancient game. A game of Time.


Book Five: The Labyrinth of Roots

Istanbul is founded on the shores of the Sea of Marmara and underneath it is a passage that leads to a huge labyrinth. The labyrinth is supposed to run the length of Anatolia. From Istanbul to Van, Anatolia is in its entirety a protrusion of this labyrinth. It is a great gaping abyss. The Vikings called it Ginnungagab, the Sumerians called it Abzu. This place existed even when the world did not. Once upon a time the people of the Labyrinth were as powerful as gods. They were living in peace. They were slow and serene like trees. But among them there was one who did not want things to continue as they were. He was young, strong and ambitious. He was jealous of the short but full lives people who were weaker than himself lived. He wanted to rule, build big palaces and to shape the world as he wished. He was a Pharaoh. The people of the Labyrinth decided to stop him. They turned his power against himself making his entire body burn. That was when he became filled with wickedness. He attacked anything he came across. He drove the rest of the people out of the Labyrinth and began to torment them. Finally, the Family Council headed by the Eltanins buried the Pharaoh together with the Labyrinth, their ancient land, underneath what now is the Sea of Marmara.  

This book is about the Eltanin twins’ and their friends’ search for the Pharaoh’s palace and obtaining the only power they need to defeat him, in short, the story of joining up the First Fable.

Ran embarks on a time travel through the Prophecy Rings and finds himself in Istanbul in the 1200s. He witnesses the leave-taking ceremony at Hagia Sophia of Princess Maria Palaiologina before she sets out to marry the Mongol ruler Hulagu Khan. Just then a boy about his own age comes up behind him and scares him. The boy is none other than Marco Polo himself as a boy! He has come to Byzantine Istanbul with his father and uncle, who are merchants, and they are living in the Venetian district here. The relationship between Venice and the Byzantine emperor however, is problematic. That night Marco Polo and his family secretly have to flee the city. Among the goods they load onto the horse cart Ran notices the mummy he had seen in the ruined castle in Venice. Marco tells him that the mummy is that of Byzas, Istanbul’s first king. He also mentions an ancient book among his father’s collection of papyruses. It appears to have been written by King Byzas who wrote that Istanbul is the centre of the world and that a gigantic power called The Source is boiling deep underneath it. Whoever finds that place obtains all its power and becomes the ruler of the world. Marco Polo gives Ran the papyrus and as he makes his escape from the city with his family, Ran returns to his own time.

When the three children meet up again in Hagia Sophia, Rudabe tells them that she spent one year in the Ottoman harem. She was there during the reign of Sultan Suleiman. But she had been taken to a different part of the harem where only a few selected girls were allowed. They had taken her to a Russian soothsayer by the name of Malusha who lived in a cave overlooking the sea. She had been sent there to learn divination for Sultan Suleiman and the only other person who was there with her was the sultan’s daughter, Mihrimah. The two girls were trained in the art of calligraphy. Malusha told them that beautiful calligraphy reveals the truth. As her calligraphy improved Rudabe became entranced by what she wrote. Eventually, whatever she wrote really began to become the truth. Once she learned to create and destroy things by writing them, it was time to see into the future. She asked a question and then the two girls wrote the question over and over again day and night. They neither ate nor slept until the answer emerged. The calligraphy began to spin like a wheel before their eyes and finally the question was transformed into an answer. Then Malusha asked Rudabe whether she was going to die that year. The girl told her she had two more days to live. The old woman then told Rudabe everything she knew so that the knowledge would not be lost. She taught Rudabe to read the knowledge hidden deep in the truth. The First Fable.

In this way, they learn that the things the gypsy named Kashmir had told them about the First Fable were only hearsay. In reality, the Pharaoh had made a name for himself in the first sentence of the fable and then broken the rest up into pieces. But none of them were in fact lost. They are preserved in a very secret place. Malusha not only gives Rudabe this information, she also gives her a mirror, one side of which is jet-black obsidian. It was used by the village soothsayer in a Neolithic settlement called Çatalhoyuk and by sorceresses. The mirror could also be used to read the First Fable.






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