I was instantly charmed the first time I was handed the keys to my very first Italian apartment. The long skeleton key seemed implausible. It was about four inches high with two prongs and looked nothing like the serrated house keys of my childhood.
These long skeleton keys remain the norm in Italy, where reinforced doors (porte blindate) are major selling points in ads for apartments. In a country where violent crime in relatively low, petty crime remains the main realm of concern for locals. While most tourists are warned to watch out for pickpockets, Italians themselves are also preoccupied with the risk of home break ins. (And to be fair, they are quite common in August when most of the country goes on holidays for an extended period of time!)
I love the weight of these keys and their permanence. I never wonder if I have them in my bag or if I have left them on the counter because they are simply impossible to miss.
The impressively long Italian keys are a natural byproduct of the complex locks which are designed to keep the outside reliably out. Many Italian apartment doors have metal interiors with a combination of locks going into the walls, and even down into the floor for security.
These long keys work to lock the door from both the outside AND the inside. Locking the door with the skeleton key from inside prevents anything (or anyone) from unlocking it from the outside.
If you are staying in an Italian apartment, you typically be given a minimum of two keys: one for the “portone” (or main door to the building” and one for the apartment. Be sure you ask how to use both because there is often something particular about how to close or open the locks.
Even if you can’t take these old-school keys home, you can bring some serious Italian vibes to your keychain. My handmade leather tortellino keychain is from Double Trouble Bologna (and they ship worldwide).
Curious to learn more about life in Italy? Here is how to find any address in Rome, plus some tips on the types of rental contracts you may come across if you are house hunting for the medium to long term!