On June 1, 2015, travelers and lovers alike mourned the loss of the locks on the Pont des Arts in Paris, the most infamous love lock site. Despite the massive social media outcry at the notion of the locks’ removal, city workers dismantled the bridge’s wire mesh panels, which supported an estimated 45 tons (that’s over 700,000 locks!) of eternal love. Though the response was overwhelmingly negative, the removal was necessary. The locks had begun to post a major threat to the structure and intricate ironwork of the bridge, and there was a constant threat of locks or even entire panels of bridgework crashing down on passing boats beneath. Many online movements and petitions were created in support of the lock removal, including nolovelocks.com and the popular hashtag #lovewithoutlocks, which promotes declaring love in the form of a selfie. Bruno Julliard, First Deputy to the Mayor of Paris, urged people to find other ways to proclaim their love throughout the city– just not by damaging it.
While Paris is generally the first city that comes to mind when love locks are mentioned, the tradition actually has a long history that reaches far beyond the city’s borders. In fact, while love locks were only really popularized in Paris around 2008, they can be traced back at least 100 years to Vrnjačka Banjaa, a small town in Serbia. As legend has it, a young man, Relja, and a young woman, Nada, met on the Most Ljubavi bridge, fell in love, and were engaged just before World War I. Relja went to war, and while he was away he fell in love with another woman from Corfu, Greece. To commemorate Nada’s loss and to protect their own hearts, women began placing locks on the bridge where Nada and Relja first met… and the rest is history.
Jump forward a hundred years, and love locks have been popping up in cities around the world, and threatening the very structures they’re clamped onto. From the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, to the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, locks have become a problem for countless cities and monuments across the world. And as more attention is called to their potential damage, mass removals of the locks have been spreading.
Romantics, be still your hearts – this is not signaling the end of the love lock. While locks are being removed from critical infrastructure, some cities have embraced the love lock movement with open arms, and added their own twist. In Keila-Joa, Estonia, a love lock problem was solved by providing an artistic alternative: two gridded metal hearts by the entrance to a bridge. In Moscow and Seoul, “love trees” were erected in lock problem areas. And in Toronto, visitors attach locks to a designated “love wall”. These new, innovative solutions encourage visitors to display their love and continue the lock tradition, but do so in a way that does not threaten the very architecture that they came to see. And the fact that this creates an interactive, beautiful new art piece is just an added bonus.
So the love lock battle rages on. While some see them as an eyesore and a destructive form of vandalism, some regard them as a sentimental way to add character to a city, or perhaps even as a form of art. Whether you love them or hate them, however, it’s become quite clear: love locks can be removed, but they are here to stay.