London, Apr.10 : A 12th-century iron key to the Ka'ba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, was sold for 9.2 million pounds at Sotheby's in London on Wednesday.
Its existence was previously unknown and prompted a bidding battle that took the price to more than 18 times the 400,000-500,000 pounds estimate in an auction of Islamic art, whose 405 lots sold for a total of 21.5 million pounds.
According to The Times, the key, which is 37cms (15in) long, was formerly in a private collection in the Lebanon and dated from 1179-1180. It was bought anonymously and is the second earliest of only 58 known examples.
Others are in European and Middle Eastern museums. The key was the ultimate symbol of religious power. It was engraved: "This is what was made for the servant of . . . God during the time of our lord the Iman, son of the Iman al-Muqtadi Abu Ja'far al Mustansir Abu'l-Abbas 575".
The rarity was the highlight of a week of Islamic sales in London. Christie's also took 11.8 million pounds in an auction on Tuesday. A leaf from a 7th-century copy of the Koran on vellum, probably from Medina, took 2.4 million pounds against an estimate of 100,000-150,000 pounds, setting a new world auction record for any Islamic manuscript.