Remembering the Love Locks on the Pont des Arts

Pont des Arts3News out of Paris during the last few years was that the preponderance of padlocks attached to the Pont des Arts—a cultural phenomenon known as “love locks,” in which a couple inscribes their names on a lock, attaches it to the bridge, and throws the key into the Seine, symbolizing their eternal love— was creating significant damage to the structure, even at one point causing part of the bridge to collapse.

In 2014, engineers closed the Pont des Arts for a few hours to assess the damage, and to place wooden barriers on the sides where metal grates had fallen into the river below. Fortunately, no one was hurt by the falling metal, which is something of a miracle considering the constant flow of tourist boats under the bridge both night and day.

And finally, in 2015, the city decreed all the love locks would be removed and new see-through barriers would be erected that were designed to prevent the attachment of all locks moving forward.

Pont des Arts4Parisians—and visitors alike—had strong feelings about the love locks. Some loved them, some detested them. (I was in the former category, with a few caveats.) But the issue had become clear — something needed to be done before people got hurt or the bridge itself suffered irreparable damage.

First, though, a little history on the Pont des Arts.

The pedestrian-only bridge that connects the Institut de France on the Left Bank with the Louvre on the Right Bank was built from 1981 to 1984 to replace a 19th century pedestrian bridge that had been damaged during World Wars I and II and which partially collapses after being rammed by a barge on the Seine in 1979.

Pont des Arts2Today, the Pont des Arts (Metro: Pont Neuf) frequently serves as an open-air art gallery for both official exhibits and displays by amateur artists. It’s also a popular spot for sketching and painting, particularly for art students, due to its vistas of the Seine, the Louvre and the Ile de la Cite.

The love locks phenomenon on the bridge took off after the turn of the century, although the practice was first described more than 100 years ago in a Serbian novel and focused on the Most Ljubavi in the town of Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia. The placing of love locks became a Europe-wide practice following its depiction in the 2006 Italian teen romance novel “Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You)” which was made into a movie the following year.

And while Paris has cracked down on the padlocks being placed on the Pont des Arts (and actually all of the major bridges in the city), there are many other locations that are seeing an explosion of love locks attached to fences and railings, particularly near the Sacre Coeur church in Montmartre.

It seems the genie is out of the bottle on this phenomenon.