From the famous tour Eiffel – location of many a successful proposal – to the bustling cobbled streets of Montmartre and the panoramic views across the city from the mighty Sacré-Coeur, the romantically inspiring settings are plentiful. However, on a recent trip to the city d’amour I was struck by a heartfelt sight of a rather more ‘heavy metal’ nature.
Crossing the pont Solférino towards the Musée d’Orsay, I noticed the wire mesh of the bridge was littered with padlocks. Rusting and long-forgotten bicycle locks these were not; instead they were colourful, many etched with initials in some kind of protest – or so I presumed. Later that day there were more to be found on the pont de l’Archevêché near the buzzing hub of Notre Dame. But who had put them there, and why?
A little digging, a smattering of mediocre GCSE French and some rather over-enthusiastic gesticulation later, I learnt they are, in fact, ‘love locks’. Attached to the bridges by couples determined to show the world how steadfast their love is, people travel from all over the globe in order to defiantly add their own padlock to the growing array of brightly coloured metallic chunks before, as if daring the world to doubt their earnestness, throwing the key down into the murky waters of the Seine so it is forever lost.
Mills and Boon this is not: it transpires this is an ancient tradition, thought to have originated in China, which can now be found in locations around the world. It’s an odd sight, and one that Paris City Hall seems reluctant to encourage, having removed the locks from the bridges in 2010 – presumably causing uproar from those whose everlasting declarations were destroyed in the process. But, whether considered vandalism or not, they have begun to creep their way back onto the bridges of the city, and lovers near and far are flocking to add their own loving latch to the structures.
Elegant? Mais, non. However, this is not the desecration of age-old architecture – the bridges are modern, functional things, themselves arguably ill-fitting with the grandeur of the historic city surrounding them. So where’s the harm in people adding their own heartfelt sentiment to the mix? Let’s face it: it’s a unique Valentine’s gift for that special someone and, while admittedly the Eurostar tickets and hotel might hike the price somewhat, one quick trip to your local hardware store and you’re set for a day to remember. Just don’t tell the gendarmes I told you so.