Padlocked Bridges: The Incident at Pont des Arts in Paris and the issue of padlocks on bridges

Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris. Photos taken in 1999

Lovelocks. Love locks the two together for eternity to come. And how to provide that but to attach a lock on a historic bridge and throw the key away into the river. The origin of lovelocks was from Serbia, where a school misstress fell in love with a World War I soldier and met often at the Most Liubavi in the Serbian town of Vrnjacka Banja. However, the couple broke up after he went off to war and the woman died a broken heart. In response, locals showed their solidifying love by putting their padlocks on the Most Liubavi and it became part of a work by Serbian poet and writer,  Desanka Maksimovi?. The bridge of love, where lovelocks are attached to bridge railings and other parts, later spread to other bridges in Europe, and today, lovelocks can be found in the hundreds of thousands on popular bridges, such as the  Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and even the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne.

Love locks on the Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne, Germany

Yet these lovelocks are starting to pose a major problem, as can be seen with the latest incident with the Pont des Arts Bridge, spanning the Sienne River in Paris. According to reports by the BBC, parts of the parapet of the 1804 iron deck arch bridge collapsed on Sunday because of the weight of these love padlocks. This has raised a debate on whether the padlocks should be removed in its entirety due to concerns of the historic integrity and aesthetics of the bridge being compromised, as well as the hazard that is being imposed on boat traffic passing underneath the bridge. The Pont des Arts is one of three of the dozens of Parisian bridges that are laden with padlocks. The other two are the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor and the Pont de l’Archevêché. Consideration is being taken to remove the padlocks in its entirety, as it has been done to several bridges in Europe and North America that have been the magnet for these lovelocks, such as the Humber Bridge in Toronto, as well as the aforementioned bridges in Dublin and Florence. Yet if any action is taken, it will run into stiff opposition by those wishing to keep the tradition alive, as this was seen by action taken with the Kettenbrücke in Bamberg and the Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne last year. At both places, protests forced the proprietors of the two bridges (the City of Bamberg and the German Railways (Deutsche Bahn)) to retract their decision to remove the locks.

Close-up of the arches, the parapet and the lamppost.

While lovelocks are a symbol of eternal love and the tradition should be alive. The question is why choose certain bridges, such as the Ponts des Arts in Paris. Upon my visit in 1999, before the bridge became a magnet for this sensational ritual, the bridge was clean of all its padlocks, including the parapets and the lampposts dating back to the 1800s, when the bridge was not affected by the years of conflict it would sustain through the French wars with Germany lasting up until the end of World War II. It was restored in 1984 after parts of the span collapsed in the 1970s and was the hub for artwork, mainly from the students of the school of art École des Beaux-Arts. This included a series on cowboys and indians from the American wild west, which was on display during my visit:

 

 

And while art exhibits have changed from time to time on the bridge, nobody has expected the lovelocks to decorate the bridge, making it look colorful and more beautiful on the one hand, but ugly and one that can ruin the structural beauty of the bridge. But then again, love does have its good and bad sides as well, and conflicts can be solved through compromise, which will need to be made before too many lovelocks do indeed cause damage to historic bridges, causing damage and costing more money to repair and restore them than necessary.

It does not mean that lovelocks should not be allowed on the bridges and other places of interest. It should be encouraged, however in moderation. This means that only a limited amount of lovelocks should be allowed on a bridge or at or near a place of interest to ensure that the aesthetic and structural integrity are not harmed in anyway. This means that there are more places to show your love with lovelocks than just this one particular place, as long as it is allowed.

After this incident at the Pont des Arts, questions will arise as to what will become of the lovelocks on that bridge as well as the other two in question. Yet as lovers have done when being in love, when there is a will, there is a way to show the love and keep the tradition alive; if not at this bridge, then another one.

Question:

Apart from the aforementioned bridges in this article, which other bridges in the US, Europe and other places have this lovelock tradition? And if there is a bridge where you would love to see lovelocks on there, apart from the Lover’s Leap Bridge in Columbus Junction, Iowa and New Milford, Connecticut, which ones would you place your lovelock on and why?  Put your comments here as well as in the Chronicles’ facebook pages.

 

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One Response to Padlocked Bridges: The Incident at Pont des Arts in Paris and the issue of padlocks on bridges

  1. As a long time bridgetender I have mixed emotions about love locks. People don’t realize how quickly the weight of these locks add up, and all bridges have a very narrow weight bearing window in which they can remain structurally sound. If I have to choose between couples memorializing their love, and EVERYONE enjoying a historical bridge, I’ll pick the bridge, every time. But I’m not anti-love by any means. Maybe the cities in question could put up artistic structures at the foot of these bridges that people could attach their love locks to.

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