It’s a common activity in the City of Lights—for couples to declare their love for each other by attaching padlocks to famous bridges, and then throwing away the key. A sign of how their love will endure.
But whilst the action of attaching a tiny padlock might seem incidental, a passing thought in a busy weekend, bridges around the world are buckling under the weight of thousands of padlocks in Europe’s major tourist destinations. And Paris is fighting back.
The trend first arrived in Paris around 2008 on the Pont des Arts bridge. No one is sure where the tradition began, but most likely it originates from an Italian film, Ho Voglia di Te” (I want you).
And something that started as a charming pastime soon became an issue for the Town Hall. CNN reported in 2015 that there were, at that point, an estimated 700,000 padlocks on the bridge, which equalled the weight of 20 elephants. The bridge couldn’t survive and the Town Hall was forced to remove them in 2015 after part of the bridge collapsed.
An advocacy group, No Love Locks, petitions for the practice to be outlawed and calls out famous brands, such as Chanel, when they use bridges adorned with love locks in advertising campaigns. Lisa Anselmo, co-founder of No Love Locks, told CNN that “Paris had to do something to save their heritage sites. The entire UNESCO World Heritage district is endangered by love locks.”
An additional problem was that so many people turned up to one place to take photos or chain padlocks, that it encouraged anti-social behavior which the Town Hall wanted to stop, like graffiti, pickpockets and street sellers.
But now, another district is struggling. In the 18th arrondissement (suburb), in front of the divine Sacre Coeur and on the streets of Montmartre, padlocks are commonly attached to gates, fences and any metal infrastructure. Street sellers congregate around tourists to sell padlocks of varying sizes, from anywhere up to €15 ($15).
Up until now, the Town Hall has been sending workers along to Montmartre occasionally to cut off the padlocks but now these sites are being directly targeted with signs saying they will be removed.
Karen Taïeb, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of heritage told Le Parisien, “it is (also) an aesthetic and heritage problem. We thought it was a fad, but it has been going on for fifteen years.”
The Mayor of Paris’ office gave another reason for why love locks were not a great idea, not just from the infrastructural point of view—because love shouldn’t require people to use chains and locks when they are in love.
“Already, philosophically, we do not agree with needing to chain ourselves to love each other,” said the mayor’s office, quoted in The Local. “But it also degrades the infrastructure and public space.”