Out of the 39 bridges crossing the River Seine in Paris, the Pont des Arts is one of the most striking: steel arches crisscross back and forth, creating a sturdy base for one of Paris’ most iconic pedestrian bridges, a famously romantic location to watch the sunset, have a picnic, or just make out. It has been a pedestrian bridge since 1804, linking the Louvre and the French Institute on each side.
Yet the Pont des Arts, along with many other bridges around the world, are under severe stress due to a fad perpetuated by books, movies, and even scenes in Parks and Recreation and Keeping Up With the Kardashians — love locks. It’s a romantic notion: you visit a great bridge or edifice with your lover, padlock in hand, and you write your initials on the lock and throw the key in the water below. True love forever. But the love locks, as reported by The Guardian this morning, are damaging the Pont des Arts bridge. This weekend, it had to be evacuated when a 2.4 meter section of the railing broke loose.
The New York Times credits the trend to a “melancholy Serbian tale of love during World War I,” in which a young schoolteacher, abandoned and cuckolded by love, dies of heartbreak, and the town’s young women start putting up love padlocks in order to avoid that fate. The fad gained momentum after a bestselling Italian young adult book from 2006, I Want You by Federico Moccia, saw its protagonists declare their forever-love by attaching a lock to a bridge. They’ve swept throughout Europe from there.
The first glimpse of the Pont des Arts, the gold locks glittering in the sun, is a moving one. But soon enough, you realize: these locks are everywhere. Throughout Paris, locks have gone from bridge to bridge, with lone locks hanging even over the Canal St. Martin. And love locks are not a trend specific to Paris — they’re worldwide. The Brooklyn Bridge is having its own problems with love locks, leading to headlines like: “City to Lovebirds: Lock It Off!” And while that’s funny, the reality is that the lovestruck are padlocking in dangerous places, including one spot that’s over lanes of car traffic.
In February, two Americans in Paris started a campaign called “No Love Locks!” (tagline: “Free your love. Save our bridges.”), arguing that the zealous embrace of this fad is ruining the structural integrity of bridges and other iconic, important, useful city objects throughout the world. They are petitioning the Parisian government and getting testimonials. One woman writes: “Stop the massacre: at this rate, there will be nothing left of our beautiful city at all, no more romance, no more beauty, and eventually she will no longer be populated by lovers… the TRUE lovers, the lovers of Paris.”
Clearly, those who would protect historic structures will keep fighting the insistent march of hopeless romantics, needing to prove their love with some visual ritual, until a bridge collapses completely or lovebirds start getting ticketed. It’s a trend with surprising legs, and whether the Pont des Arts will survive all this love remains to be seen.