Paris, known worldwide as the city of romance, has begun the heart-breaking process of removing hundreds of thousands of love locks, padlocks chained to the city’s bridges by adoring couples
Couples from around the world have flocked to the Pont des Arts over the years to declare their eternal love by fastening a padlock with their initials written on it to the bridge’s chain-link guardrail and then dropping the key into the Seine below.
But the romantic practice was called into question last year after a section of the bridge collapsed under the weight of the so-called love locks, leading Paris city officials to order them to be removed due to safety concerns.
Among the crowds of tourists who stopped to watch the bridge’s partial dismantlement were Joe Perino and Delaney Collins, a couple from the United States who were in Paris on holiday. The pair said that although they had planned to attach a love lock to the bridge, they understood why the city was putting an end to the practice.
Yellow-vested officials were out early Monday morning (local time) on the city’s iconic Pont des Arts, wielding cutting equipment to free the padlocks while a handful of curious tourists looked on.
Loved-up visitors from around the world have for years written their names on padlocks to symbolise their passion, then tossed the key into the River Seine so that nothing could ever break the bond.
Or at least, that is what they thought.
What couples see as a harmless act of romance is for city authorities a potentially dangerous headache.
Last year police hurriedly ushered tourists off the Pont des Arts when a section of the footbridge collapsed under the weight of the locks covering the 155-metre-long bridge.
Plastic panels were put up in places to deter lovebirds, and authorities launched a drive to get tourists to find other ways of expressing their passion.
But nothing stands in the way of true love, and tourists have kept piling the locks on the bridge and elsewhere, forcing authorities to take drastic measures.
Tourist Yilmaz, who has a love lock in Paris dating from 2010, said: “It’s like we’re removing some of Paris’s heritage, heritage created by the people.
“It’s people’s art. That’s what was beautiful about it.”
“We will remove nearly one million padlocks, or 45 tonnes,” city official Bruno Julliard said, criticising the “ugliness” of the locks on some of Paris’s most beautiful bridges.
“Paris should stay capital of love.
“Couples should carry on declaring their love, proposing marriage, maybe on the Pont des Arts, but… just not by using a love lock.”
The wire mesh panels on which the love locks are attached will be replaced by street art before perspex panels are installed after the summer high season.
Standing on the Pont des Arts, Paris Deputy Mayor Bruno Julliard said that, overall, 45 tonnes of padlocks would be removed from the bridge for security as well as aesthetic reasons. The chain-link guardrails will be temporarily replaced by art works before permanent glass panels are installed in the fall.
Julliard said that similar measures will be taken at other tourist sites where love locks have appeared since the trend first emerged in Paris in 2008.
“Paris is going to be the first city to put an end to this practice,” Julliard said, pointing out that the French capital is not the only place where love locks have taken hold. “Maybe other cities will thank us.”
“There are many other ways to say, ‘I love you’,” he said. “The message we want to send is that this practice has to stop.”
The message, however, has yet to reach everyone. Just a few kilometres away, Giovanni and Monica, a couple from Italy, attached a love lock to the guardrail of the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor footbridge, completely unaware of the city’s initiative to have them removed.
“It’s a symbol of our love. We want to come back 10 years from now and find our lock,” Giovanni said. “If I knew that they were planning to take them down, I wouldn’t have bought the lock.”