Love Locks- Locking in the Love around the World
The romantic gesture of leaving padlocks on bridges has swept the world, putting the famous structures at risk.
Love locks have gained in popularity, for better or worse, and have become a frequent sight on bridges in cities all over the globe. A love lock is simply a padlock that two lovers attach to something like a bridge, fence or tree. It is then tradition for the couple to throw away the key, symbolising their enduring love for each other that can never be broken. Often, they will also carve their initials onto the padlock as a lasting reminder to those who pass by. In a world where love is more often celebrated on the pages of Facebook and other social media pages, the symbolism of a love lock can seem like an especially romantic way to declare your feelings.
Probably the most famous padlock bridge in the world is the love lock bridge Pont Des Arts in Paris, which hit the headlines in 2014 after one of the parapets of the bridge buckled under the weight of the estimated 700,000 padlocks.
The Pont des Arts connects the Institut de France with The Louvre. The bridge was originally constructed in 1804 during the reign of Napoleon.
The original Pont des Arts suffered two aerial bombardments during World War I and II, as well as numerous collisions with boats before collapsing in 1979 after a ship rammed into it.
The present-day bridge was built in 1984 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the rest of the Seine Riverfront in Paris.
The Pont des Arts is a popular spot for picnics and open-air art studios. The bridge’s position along the Seine River and The Louvre makes it a popular spot for photographers as well. The Pont des Arts is most famous for being the Lock Bridge in Paris. Visitors to the bridge attach personalised padlocks to its railing and throw the keys away in the Seine River.
The Pont des Arts collapsed. Or rather, a section of the fence that had been covered in locks collapsed. Individual locks are not very heavy, but hundreds of locks at a time are, and the poor chain link fence just couldn’t take it anymore. The bridge had become a huge attraction in and of itself. Hawkers sold locks (and sharpies, for those who wanted to sign their name to their crime) to passing couples on the bridge, and, in spite of warnings from French officials that it was not really good for the bridge to be weighed down by tens of thousands of locks, the tradition exploded. So what happened was inevitable. You may notice that many of the bridges on the Seine are now used by lovers in the same way. Those of a less romantic or perhaps more practical persuasion look at these padlocks as a form of vandalism and have created a campaign, No Love Locks, that is growing in momentum amongst local Parisians.
Eventually, French officials took down all of the locks, with their final weight clocking in at a staggering 45 tons. They never ended up fishing the over 700,000 keys out of the Seine. The newly installed fences were not chain link, and couldn’t be locked on to.
Despite the government of Paris removing many of the locks in 2014, over a million more (approximately 45 tons) have been placed on the bridge since then.
The love locks have now spread to 11 other bridges in Paris, and love locks today can be seen on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge (against the wishes of city officials), Cologne’s Hohenzollern Bridge, and at the Love Bell on Japan’s Enoshima Island. Love locks are now a global phenomenon.
What is most interesting is that the love lock tradition didn’t even start in Paris — it started in a town called Vrnjačka Banja in Serbia. There, shortly before the First World War, a young man and woman fell in love, and would meet every night at the Most Ljubavi bridge in town. But the man went into the military, and while abroad, he met and fell in love with someone else. The young woman died of heartbreak, and superstitious local women began going to the bridge, writing the names of themselves and their lovers on padlocks, and locking them to the bridge, in the hope that it would bind their paramours to home.
It is an almost blindingly romantic story, but the tradition petered out after the war, until Serbian poet Desanka Maksimović wrote a poem about the story, and it took off again, but still only at the Most Ljubavi.
The origin of the current wave of love lock bridges probably comes from a single Italian writer named Federico Moccia. Moccia wrote a book called I Want You that featured a couple who put a love lock on a lamp post on Rome’s 2100-year-old Ponte Milvio bridge. The book was popular, and spawned a movie adaptation, and shortly after the movie came out, the lamp post partially collapsed. People started putting their locks elsewhere on the bridge, and the Roman government began fining people 50 euros if they were caught putting love locks on the bridge.
From there, the tradition spread to Asia and the rest of Europe, eventually becoming an issue in France. We can probably thank the current explosion of love locks at least in part to movies, but the tradition was getting out of control. Now, all over the world, city governments are begging people to please stop weighing down their bridges with locks of love.
The Brooklyn Bridge has been sporting locks for the past five years, along with other tokens of love such as baby dummies and vacation mementos. Just like Paris, New York officials are not happy and they are periodically removed.
The Paris Las Vegas Hotel in Sin City is now a popular location as well. The bridges are less scenic, as you can imagine, and locks may only be fastened on designated 'Locks on the Bridge' fencing. Worryingly, many lovers started throwing their keys off the hotel tower forcing the property to begin supplying padlocks without keys for free to stop this from happening.
What better place to find a love lock bridge than in Venice, a city of bridges? The three main bridges to find locks are the famous Rialto Bridge, the Ponte degli Scalzi and the Ponte dell'Accademia. If you're tempted to take part in the tradition, do be warned there is a campaign to make it a 3000 Euro fine if you are caught fixing a lock.
Even Ireland isn't immune to the romantics of the world. You'll find love locks on the Ha'penny bridge, Rosie Hackett, Millennium Bridge, and even the Boardwalk balustrade. Local government officials are not supportive unfortunately and regularly remove the offending locks. They are, however, looking into erecting alternative structures where people can use padlocks to illustrate their love.
In Germany, the Hohenzollern Bridge, which spans the Rhine River, is where you'll find the locks in Cologne. Unlike the cities we have looked at so far, Cologne seems to not only accept the locks, they embrace them. A previous attempt to remove the locks provoked a public backlash and the locals now promote the Hohenzollern Bridge as a tourist destination for lovers.
The 21st-century travel culture is a culture of hordes, not individuals. National Parks are finding that they have to quickly adjust to deal with masses of Instagram crowds that swoop down on a location that has become popular on social media. World Heritage Sites like Machu Picchu are grappling with the contradiction that their local economy relies on tourism, but that the site itself is under threat from the erosive effect of mass tourism.
Ecologists call this effect the “tragedy of the commons.” In a nutshell, it is harmless for a single person to act in their own self-interest, say, by taking as much water as they want from a well. But it is not harmless for everyone to act in their own self-interest — without rationing what comes out of the well, it will soon run dry to no one’s benefit.
We, as tourists, have to be cognizant of how we, in massive numbers, are eroding the places we love to visit. It is romantic, of course, to place a lock of love on a bridge. But, if we must commemorate our everlasting love with a permanent artefact, perhaps it would be more romantic to paint a picture or plant a tree. We do not want to love each other and the world so hard that we end up destroying it.