You may not have heard of the Pont des Arts by its real name – but you might have heard of the ‘love lock’ bridge in Paris. It’s the pedestrian bridge known for its railings covered in padlocks, locked there by loving couples who sign their initials and throw the key into the Seine river below.
The Pont Des Arts began life in Napoleonic France, a beautiful cast-iron project designed to resemble a garden reaching over the Seine. After bomb damage during WW2, and numerous boat collisions, the bridge was torn down in 1979, and replaced with a new bridge in 1984.
The romantic gesture of signing a padlock and throwing away the key in Paris (and quite a sweet idea, I must agree) spread amongst visitors sometime around 2008. The idea is thought to have originated in Hungary or Germany, but the Pont Des Arts became the most popular spot. And when it first began, it looked very charming.
The idea took off from there, even making it into the 2013 film Now You See Me. And as time went on, the bridge started collecting a lot of locks.
The once ordinary wire fence became swollen and lumpy as locks were attached to other locks, and in many parts, you couldn’t even see through anymore.
Then the bridge began to look like trash…
Hawkers quickly cottoned onto the phenomenon, and padlocks and permanent markers were sold on the banks of the Seine for a few Euros. By 2014, as the craze spread to nearby fences, it was clear that the bridge had too many locks.
Eventually, the collection looked like a junkyard. People spray painted messages on the side, massive bike locks were attached, and the fences began to sag and warp under the weight.
Then, in June 2014, a section of the railing collapsed – half a ton of brass and steel pulled clean off the bridge. More railings were taken down for safety. The city became understandably anxious that someone on the bridge or on a boat would be crushed one day.
Replacement fences went up, but these too were soon filled with love locks.
The decision was made in 2015 to remove all of them. Over one million locks were taken down, and when all totalled, the bridge was supporting 45 tonnes of metal as extra weight. That’s like stacking more than 28 cars on a bridge built for pedestrians only!
What’s more, there were concerns that the keys of unbreakable love were corroding and polluting the river water below.
The new bridge
Whilst new railings were being made, temporary wooden panels were erected with graffiti art using the padlock as a theme. Eventually, the final railings were installed; large X-shaped bars too thick to place a padlock, to replace the chain-linked fences.
What happened to the locks next?
In 2017, sections of railings went up for sale at auction, to raise money for refugees. Starting at 200 Euros per 150-lock bunch, the love locks ended up raising 250,000 Euros!
But love locks never die – the craze is still alive and well, spreading to other locations all around the world.
Is it graffiti to add a lock to the bridge? A lovely gesture? Or a tourist trap? Let me know in the comments below!