Love Locked: the Low Down!
Paris is known as the city for lovers, never more evident than when strolling around Paris on a cool spring evening, with couples caressing and canoodling beside the river banks as a saxophone player serenades them. But how exactly does one ‘lock’ their love in this most romantic of cities?
The idea is you grab a padlock, write your name (or initials) and that of your lover’s, attach said padlock to the bridge and throw the key into the river. And just like that, voilà, your love is sealed for all of eternity.
Background on the “Love Locking” Tradition
Locking your love on a bridge is a relatively new trend that has exploded over the past couple of years so let’s delve into how this tradition got its roots. To the surprise of many, the tradition of attaching locks to the Pont des Arts bridge did not originate in Paris. It is thought to have come from an ancient Chinese custom, although many attribute it to a Serbian tale going back to World War I. A local girl Nada was bethrothed to Relja, an officer, but he fell in love with another whilst fighting in Greece. He broke off their engagement and Nada died of a broken heart. Women in her small spa town of Vrnjačka Banja, frightened of suffering the same fate, would write their and their lover’s names on padlocks and attach them to the very bridge where Nada and Relja had meet.
It was more recently in Italy, however. that this trend exploded. In 2006, author and screenwriter Federico Moccia published the book Hai Voglia di Te (in English, I Want You). Looking for a symbolic way to express the strong love that his protagonist characters had towards one another, Moccia came up with the idea of attaching the locks to a bridge. As a tangible way to say that “we will never leave each other”, the couple bought a lock and attached it to a lamppost on the Ponte Milvio in Rome, and threw away the key in the Tiber River below. The movie version the following year, directed by Luis Prieto, immortalised this moment and it became an iconic scene from the movie.
Not long after, people were flocking to Ponte Milvio to express their love just as the novel’s main characters had done. While at first this seemed to be a totally romantic and acceptable practice, Italian citizens soon became fed up with this tourist practice that was destroying the scenery of their city. Not only were the locks on the bridge an eyesore for the residents of Rome, but they also were quite architectually damaging to the lamp post and the surrounding bridge. In 2007, the town officially put an end to the “love locking” when a portion of the lamp- post collapsed due to the heavy extra weight from the locks that it was never built to bear. As a way to discourage people from continuing to attach locks to Ponte Milvio, the town made a website where you can attach a “virtual lock.”
Love Locks Arrive in Paris
As the locks were banned in Italy, what better place to “lock your love” than the City of Love itself? This trend quickly moved from Ponte Milvio to ‘Lovers’ Bridge’ in Paris – a beautiful bridge crossing the Seine for couples to promise their love to one another.
Quick – can you rattle off the actual given name of Lovers’ Bridge in Paris? It is quite interesting that many tourists, when asked this question, have absolutely no idea. This exemplifies just how much the trend has taken over – that so many people now refer to the Pont des Arts bridge as the place where people go to “lock their love”. Indeed, one of the first results on Google when searching “Love Lock Bridge” is on TripAdvisor. Clearly, if the spot has a TripAdvisor page under its commercialised name and not its historically-given one, you may be forgiven for not knowing its true name.
Je T’aime Pour Toujours
If you are a bit of a magpie, you’ll appreciate the way all the padlocks glisten in the sun like golden treasure and just the sheer amount of ‘love’ there is to behold. It is pretty overwhelming and awe-inspiring to think of the couples who have journeyed to one spot, all united in their purpose to cement their love. Indeed, people from all over the world have flocked to seal their love on Paris bridges and it has done the tourism industry no harm at all. People who wander over the bridges nonchalantly unaware of the Love Lock history have stopped to take it in.
You’ll encounter padlocks attached to padlocks attached to padlocks, which makes menage-à-trois or menage-à-700,000 (terrible, but irresistible joke)! It is even rumoured that as much as Pont des Arts is for lovers, the smaller Pont de l’Archevêché bridge behind Notre Dame is for mistresses because, bien sûr, the French have a bridge just for that!
An entire industry has sprung up around this trend. There’s been an explosion of illegal merchants selling locks on the bridges and running at the first sign of the police. There are websites dedicated to engraving padlocks for a small fortune for your special day .
That’s it! We are so over!
But what if you break up after having sealed your love for all eternity? I mean, eternity is a long time. A guy that sells padlocks in the south of Paris says he gets calls daily from jilted lovers who want to remove the padlocks at any cost. People have been known to hunt down their lock and try to ply it off with bolt cutters because you don’t want to mess with eternity. It’s surprising that no one has dived into the river to try and retrive their key. It would be a futile attempt with the river bed littered with thousands of keys, and it’s not as if the French firemen (pompiers) don’t have a hard enough job with the run-of-the-mill river jumpers.
Who’s Locked their Love in Paris?
Kourtney, Scott and Mason hit the love lock bridge on Keeping Up With the Khardashians
Now You See Me
The one movie to feature the love-locked trend on Pont des Arts ‘Lover’s Bridge’ is 2013’s Now You See Me. You can see from the movie photos that the trend wasn’t as crazy as it has been recently as you can see the water through the fences. whereas nowadays with the plethora of locks, it is impossible to see any water at all.
Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) and Alma (Mélanie Laurent) meet in Paris on Pont des Arts at the end of the film
They attach a lock onto the bridge
And throw the key down into the river, watching its journey
In the very last scene, the camera dives in the river, following the key into the river until it settles on the river bed with a host of other keys, showing how prolific this trend has become
A Heavy Heart
You can move the locks to a new spot, but you cannot escape the problems that they pose. Built in 1801, Pont des Arts was built to serve the purpose of a pedestrian walkway. It was never meant to hold all the extra weight that is added each year with the accumulation of the padlocks. Therefore, not long after the trend emerged in Paris, the fences along the bridge began to buckle, just as those in Italy had. With an estimated 700,000 padlocks attached to just this bridge, the weight of the bridge was increased by 40 tonnes (about 20 elephants!). The government had to repeatedly replace collapsed sections of the bridge, and thus locking your love ‘forever’ became all a little bit relative.
“Love Without Locks?”
A campaign “No Love Locks”, launched by two American girls residing in Paris who felt the Parisian bridges were not feeling the love, garnered national attention. Started in January 2014, actually prior to the section of Pont de Arts collapsing, the girls received 10,000 signatures within the first four months of posting their petition to “ban the love locks.” The campaign’s momentum picked up as other ex-pats and native Parisiens alike joined, and the girls set up a website encouraging couples to post selfies with the hashtag #nolovelocks or #lovewithoutlocks.
Whilst many people are in support of banning love locks, there are as many that felt the such a tradition based in love couldn’t be a bad thing and it kept the tourists busy. It has been a galvanising subject in Paris. Indeed, Now You See Me was shot before love locks became a hotly debated issue…if it had been at the time, it is unlikely the producers would have chosen to feature what has become such a devisive trend.
The selfie alternative hasn’t yet replaced the love lock trend, despite a big marketing campaign. Big heart stickers were placed on the pavement of the bridges but the Paris cleaning department is so efficient that they didn’t last long. Yet with the future of love locks not looking so rosy, selfies may be set to become the next big thing.
The No Love Locks campaign called out brands such as Chanel for any photoshoot deemed glamorizing the locks
The Glass is Always Half-Full
The Mairie de Paris (City Hall) have been grappling themselves with finding a way to tackle this growing sitation and the American girls’ campaign certainly pushed this onto the agenda. The government wanted to find a way to preserve the architecture of the bridges without completely destroying the tourist attraction. Would they introduce fines for people placing padlocks on the bridge? Make it completely illegal? Set up alternative ‘approved’ places to attach padlocks?
They have decided not to go the way of Moscow which added ‘palm trees’ in the center of their bridges as an alternative. In June 2015, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, decided to act, ordering the removal of all the over-crowded panels of love locks on Pont des Arts and replacing them with plexiglass.
The love locks being removed from Pont des Arts Bridge
Before the plexiglass goes up, the Mairie are hosting a temporary art exhibit.
Temporary art exhibition currently lining Pont des Arts by graffiti artists Brusk, Pantonio, Jace and El Seed
The plexiglass panels already up at Pont de l’Archevêché show that this may not be the solution to stopping the love locks altogether. Determined lovers are still reaching around the other side of the panels to the steel beams crossed behind the panels and attaching their locks this way. A guy even fell in recently by bending over too far whilst trying to attach a lock over the side – the dangerous things one does for love! On top of this, people have taken to drawing on the plexi-glass and it is probably only a matter of time before they start etching on it.
Plexi-glass already in place at parts of Pont de l’Archevêché
Philéas, an artist that creates jewlery from old love locks under the brand Le Cléateur, was so upset by the decision to remove the love locks that he has taken it upon himself to ‘rescue’ people’s love locks. He has lots of old keys that open the older vintage locks and you can get in touch with him directly or on facebook if you want your vintage padlock back.
Until they decide what do with the 700,000 removed love locks, the city of Paris is storing them. This is an exhibition in the making…or even a website where you can claim your love lock back.
Back to Basics
Now that these transparent panels are here to say, what will the bridges look like? They’ll look just as stunning as they always have.
Check out these movie scenes all filmed on Pont des Arts to see how the bridges looked before au naturel:
From Paris, With Love –
Pont des Arts is popular for picnics in the hot summer months. Make like Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Travolta – cement your love (or bromance)with a sandwich on one of their picnic benches
Who says Paris is just for lovers?
As Amélie traverses Pont des Arts, she is inspired by a surge of love which sets her on her quest to help others
Sorry for the blurry picture – action shot. Liam Neeson at his finest rushing along Pont des Arts, before jumping off and rescuing his daughter on the boat below
(don’t try this yourselves…there is only one Liam!)
Carrie & Mr. Big seal their love with a kiss in the very last episode of Sex & the City where they finally finally get together
(They only thing they were missing was the new selfie stick! Lol)
Padlocks are so cool and sexy – we are a little bit obsessed. One of our favorite things to do is pick up an old vintage padlocks and sets of keys at one of Paris’s fantastic flea markets.
And selfishly, why would you want to part with such a fantastic find? Padlocks look great attached to your favorite bag or as decoration in your home for a daily reminder of your time in Paris (holiday or permanent stay) and the love that you shared there. And they also make fantastic jewelry à la Tiffany.
The perfect keepsake for a perfect moment.