On our June sojourn to Paris we took our friendly local’s advice and spent most of our time walking around the city. As we approached the Pont des Arts footbridge across the River Seine the sides of the bridge glinted in the sunlight, like the scales of a giant fish.
This is nothing to do with the French being overly security conscious, but due to Paris’s reputation as the most romantic of cities. Padlocks of all shapes and sizes, many with names written or engraved on them, are locked to the bridges by lovers, who then throw the key into the Seine as a sign of their undying love.
‘Love-locks’, which are believed to have originated in Russia, have now spread all over the world, but are most common in Paris where the craze started in 2008. In February 2014, there were an estimated 700,000 padlocks attached to Seine footbridges. Since then, many more thousands have been added creating safety concerns for city authorities and an aesthetic issue for Parisians.
Although visiting lovers appear to be fans of the padlocks, many locals are not. A ‘No Love Lock’ campaign with the slogan ‘Free Your Love. Save Our Bridges’ was launched in January 2014. The campaign has gained support from thousands of Paris residents, who argue that the locks are ugly and may cause damage.
Fears of damage to the bridges were realised just after our visit in June, when a section of the metal mesh on the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of the thousands of love-locks attached to it. Following that incident, more than half of the panels on the bridge were boarded over with plywood because there was a risk of more panels collapsing under the weight of the locks (estimated by the city at that time to be 700 kg per panel).
In August 2014, the Paris Mayor’s Office launched a ‘Love Without Locks’ campaign, to encourage tourists to take a selfie and share it on their website instead of leaving love locks. The website’s message is ‘Our bridges can no longer withstand your gestures of love.’ A month later, the City Hall of Paris, searching for alternative materials for the bridge where locks cannot be attached, replaced three panels of the Pont des Arts with special glass as an experiment.
We returned to Paris in November and went to the Pont des Arts to assess the damage. Many sections of the bridge were covered with graffiti-covered plywood and, between the wood and the bridge, the broken strands of the metal mesh could clearly be seen. The experimental glass panels were still in place, which were more aesthetically pleasing and allow visitors an unfettered view of the river.
So, will the love locks on Paris bridges become a thing of the past? Watch this space!