Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
This medieval tradition is meant to confer trust and honor; it grows from the medieval walled city whose gates were guarded during the day and locked at night. The key symbolizes the freedom of the recipient to enter and leave the city at will, as a trusted friend of city residents. The actual 'Key to the City' would function to open the city gates. In modern times, an ornamental (non-functional) key is presented to esteemed visitors, residents, or others the city wishes to honor. This award is also known as Freedom of the City; in this way the ability to access ‘everything’ is seen as the ultimate act of esteem.
From the Archives of the Mayor’s Press Office, April 27, 1999 (New York, NY): “The Key to the City honors distinguished persons, honored guests and outstanding civic contributors to New York City. The presentation of a Key to the City can be traced back to medieval times, when cities were enclosed by walls and locked gates. By the middle of the 1800's, it became customary to give a Key to the City as a direct symbol of the City's wish that a guest feel free to come and go at will.”
Mayor Bloomberg has given the key to New York to over 30 recipients as of the start of this year, one can only image that the number has grown. Some lucky individuals have included A-Rod, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela (his second).
As a purely ironic side note, Detroit gave Saddam Hussein the Key to the City in 1980. Things that make us question the true significance of this award…
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