Paris officials start breaking ‘love locks’ to remove them from bridge
PARIS — The city of Paris will start removing padlocks from the Pont des Arts on Monday, effectively ending the tourist tradition of attaching “love locks” to the bridge.
For years, visitors have been attaching locks with sentimental messages to the bridge in symbolic acts of affection. Some further seal the deal by throwing keys into the Seine River below.
A 2006 Italian young adult novel-turned-film is thought to have created the practice, which started in Rome and spread. It came to in Paris around 2008 and starting posing problems in 2012, said Lisa Anselmo, co-founder of advocacy group No Love Locks.
It was considered charming at first, but the thrill wore off as sections of fencing on the Pont des Arts crumbled under the locks’ weight. The bridge carries more than 700,000 locks with an estimated combined weight roughly the same as 20 elephants.
The phenomenon spread to other bridges, creating two major concerns for the city: “degradation of property heritage and a risk to the safety of visitors, Parisians and tourists,” the Paris City Council said on its website.
Graffiti, pickpockets and vendors selling cheap padlocks also became a problem in Paris, prompting many locals to avoid the once-picturesque promenade built in the 1800s under Napoleon.
“Paris had to do something to save their heritage sites. The entire UNESCO World Heritage district is endangered by love locks,” Anselmo said in an email.
No Love Locks has been urging the city to ban the practice outright. It also called out brands on social media for featuring the barnacled bridge in ads.
The city launched an unsuccessful initiative in August 2014 to end the practice, urging visitors to instead take selfies on the bridge. Unsightly wooden panels were placed over the locks in February to discourage the practice for Valentine’s Day.
Signs in French and English near the bridge said it would be closed for one week while the locks are removed. The effort will pave the way for a temporary “artistic intervention” until fall, before the final installation of protective glass panels across the bridge.
The removal of the locks is a “strong first step after a long time of inaction,” Anselmo said. But the problem is not contained to Pont des Arts — there are more than more than one million locks on at least 11 bridges and other landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, she said.
“With the tourist industry still promoting the trend and romanticizing it, it’s going to be an uphill battle,” she said. “Paris will probably need to institute a ban, like Rome did, to finally get a handle on the problem. Our followers are clamoring for that because they are fed up with what’s happening to their city.”
While there’s no love lost as far as some Parisians are concerned, some would-be tourists are lamenting the missed opportunity.
People who shared images of their locks on CNN’s Facebook page said they were glad they made it in time.
As one person said, “At least we got to experience it!”