In the spring of 2015, nearly a million amorous out-of-towners had their hearts collectively broken when 65 metrics tons worth of sentimentally inscribed padlocks — “love locks” — were removed en masse from two t
ouristy très romantique Parisian bridges, Ponts des Arts and Pont de l'Archevêché.
Now, hopeless romantics who latched chunks of metal to the two bridges only to have them carted away can rest easy with the knowledge that their love will live on in support of a big-hearted cause: helping refugees.
Last year, Paris officials started to become increasingly worried that the scenic Seine-crossing structures would suffer irreparable damage from the sheer weight of the locks, which had been affixed to the bridges’ railings by visiting lovebirds — their keys then chucked into the Seine — as a symbol of their enduring love. In addition to city-led efforts to clamp down on the sentimental ritual-turned-public safety concern, grassroots organizations also dissuade tourists from latching locks to the bridges, an infrastructure-compromising activity — an act of vandalism, essentially — considered by many to be highly disrespectful of the city’s cultural heritage.
Affixing a personalized padlock that symbolizes a couple's unbreakable love to a bridge might seem innocuous. However, the gesture is causing some historic Parisian bridges to literally break. (Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)
“They spoil the aesthetics of the bridge, are structurally bad for it and can cause accidents,” Bruno Julliard, deputy mayor of Paris, said at the time, acknowledging the severity of the situation but also treading carefully as to not damage his city’s reputation as a global hot spot for public displays of affection. “We want all the people who are in love, we want them to come to Paris but we don't want them to use love locks.”
As part of the city’s aggressive love lock crackdown, truckloads of confiscated cadenas were transported to a storage facility, their fate unknown. Tasked with finding a creative way to recycle or repurpose 65 metric tons of detachable locks left behind by tourists, the solution decided upon by authorities is nothing short of brilliant: Sell the salvaged love locks as cultural artifacts and donate all proceeds to Parisian organizations dedicated to supporting the city’s refugee population. For better or worse, Paris’ love locks had become an iconic part of the city — so why not sell them as souvenirs benefitting a humanitarian cause?
“Members of the public can buy five or 10 locks, or even clusters of them, all at an affordable price, Julliard announced last week. “All of the proceeds will be given to those who work in support and in solidarity of the refugees in Paris.”
Love locks are removed from Ponts des Arts in June 2015. In 2014, a portion of the bridge's guard rail collapsed under the weight of padlocks affixed to the structure by amour-stricken tourists. (Photo: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)
Although a kick-off date for the sale has yet to be announced, Julliard expects that hawking the padlocks to those looking to own an authentic piece of Parisian history — an authentic piece of Parisian history with some random couple's names etched into it — could potentially raise in the ballpark of 100,000 euros or roughly $107,000. All unsold locks would then be melted down and sold as scrap.
No Love Locks, a campaign founded by two American expats to discourage tourists from partaking in the activity, is supportive of the city’s decision to sell the locks and donate the proceeds to refugee groups.
“I love this idea. It’s real selfless love in action, No Locks Love co-founder Lisa Anselmo, relayed to The Independent. “It’s a very forward-thinking plan. I think it’s a wonderful statement Paris is making when everyone is turning their backs on refugees. It’s a very strong political statement.”
Parisians involved with refugee aid welcomed Julliard's announcement while also making it clear that selling secondhand padlocks liberated from two city bridges isn’t enough to tackle the city’s mounting refugee crisis.
“Money to support organisations is one thing, but volunteer organisations that work tirelessly for refugees simply cannot provide shelter for the hundreds of refugees sleeping rough on the Paris streets,” Jonny Rebours, a volunteer with Jersey Calais Refugee Aid Group and Paris Refugee Support, explains to The Independent. “The Government needs to act properly in accordance to international law and with its full power to alleviate the daily and nightly suffering.”
Rebours goes on to note that authorities have not made clear what specific refugee organizations would benefit from the sale of the love locks.
While two Paris bridges are now love lock-free, other bridges including Pont Neuf are still weighted down by padlocks left as part of a whimsical yet ire-raising tourist trend. (Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images)
This all said, the city’s supply of salvaged padlocks doesn’t end with the locks recovered from Ponts des Arts and Pont de l'Archevêché.
Nearly a dozen Parisian bridges have also been impacted by the rather rude romantic gesture — Ponts des Arts and Pont de l'Archevêché were simply the worst off/most at-risk and, as such, were cleared by workers first. In fact, in the months since Ponts des Arts and Pont de l'Archevêché were cleared off, others bridges have seen an uptick in love-locking such as Pont Neuf, which is located directly upstream from Ponts des Arts and is the oldest standing Bridge in Paris. Even non Seine-crossing structures including the Eiffel Tower have been littered with padlocks, prompting officials to post placards reading: "Padlock Prohibited: Risk of Fatal Fall."
Parisian officials plan to continue removing love locks from bridges and landmarks while discouraging the activity with signage.
In April 2016, Ponts des Arts, an iconic pedestrian bridge linking Palais du Louvre and the Institut de France, was outfitted with lock-proof mechanisms to further ward off potential lock-latchers after 2015 mass removal. However, some folks still haven't gotten the message. "Unfortunately, no matter what obvious efforts the city has made to stop love locks on the Pont des Arts, people still attempt to hang locks there," Anselmo told The Local. "It's a real middle finger from some thoughtless tourists to the people of Paris. There are still over ten bridges on the Seine plagued with locks. Only a ban on love locks will give the city the power it needs to stop this trend."
While popularized in Paris, it’s widely believed that the love lock scourge/craze didn’t originate in the French capital. The activity, initially practiced by smitten couples before morphing into a widespread tourist ritual, first appeared elsewhere in Europe — Rome, most likely — before popping up in Paris circa 2008 and becoming one of the City of Light's most popular rites for love drunk tourists alongside necking under the Eiffel Tower, canoodling at sidewalks cafe in Montmartre or strolling starry-eyed along Canal St-Martin.