Wednesday 22 November 2017

Paris ends affair with 'love locks', removing 45-ton 'eyesore' from Pont des Arts

Locks have combined weight of '20 elephants'

Henry Samuel

Paris has started taking down 45 tons of 'love locks' clinging to its famed Pont des Arts, dubbing them a dangerous eyesore.

On Monday, the city called an end to foreign tourists’ love affair with padlocks, by beginning to dismantle all 45 tons of them from its famed Pont des Arts bridge for good.

They may have fuelled Paris’s reputation as the world’s romance capital, but the estimated 700,000 love locks on its most picturesque footbridge are an eyesore, town hall officials say, and a security risk with the combined weight of 20 elephants.

The padlocks of all shapes and sizes are locked and emblazoned with messages of undying love. Some throw their keys into the Seine while others keep them.

However innocent the lovers’ intentions, the locks’ fate was sealed last year after a half-ton chunk of fencing fell off under their weight, thankfully without causing any casualties. Officials then launched a campaign to urge couples to take “selfies d’amour” instead and post these online, to no avail.

Justifying its final decision to act, Paris town hall said:

A couple lock a padlock to a bridge in Paris, France
A couple lock a padlock to a bridge in Paris, France
Paris city employees remove a railing loaded with locks on the famed Pont des Arts bridge. (AP)

"This phenomenon generates two problems: a lasting degradation of the heritage of Paris and also a risk to the safety of visitors, Parisians and tourists.”

The locks will first be stored and later recycled, according to the town hall.

Signs in French and English near the bridge said it would be closed for one week while the locks are removed. The effort will pave the way for a temporary "artistic intervention" until autumn, before padlock-proof glass panels are installed across the bridge.

However, Colin Kovacs, a Paris-based British architect, has come up with an ingenuous alternative proposal that would allow the bridge to have railings by leaving a gap in each vertical bar to easily remove the padlocks. The gaps would be position to create an “x”-shaped pattern – an original motif of the bridge’s balustrades.

“With glass panels, people will use pencils to write on them. I don’t think the town hall has come up with the best solution,” he told Le Parisien.

Lisa Anselmo, co-founder of advocacy group No Love Locks, which launched a petition against them, said the removal was "strong first step after a long time of inaction”.

However, the Paris-based American warned the problem is not limited to the Pont des Arts, as there are more than more than one million locks on at least 11 bridges and other landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower.

"With the tourist industry still promoting the trend and romanticising it, it's going to be an uphill battle," she told CNN. "Paris will probably need to institute a ban, like Rome did, to finally get a handle on the problem. Our followers are clamouring for that because they are fed up with what's happening to their city."

According to the Paris town hall's website, the “love lock” tradition began in Pécs, Hungary, and is "generally agreed to have started in the 19th century".

"At that time, soldiers stationed in the city used to leave behind the padlocks with which they had secured their barrack room wardrobes," it wrote.

Read more: Perfect Paris: You can’t beat the City of Light

In Florence, Italy, love padlocks have been affixed to the railing at the centre of the Ponte Vecchio.

"Lock-struck” sweethearts also favour Mount Huang, China, where it is customary to '”lock your soul” together and then throw the key over the edge of the cliff into the misty valleys below.

In Russia, newlyweds placed so many padlocks on the Luzhkov bridge in downtown Moscow that authorities installed tree-like iron bar structures for them to hang locks on.

The global craze took off in earnest after the release of an Italian teen novel entitled I Want You published in 2006, featuring two Roman lovers who immortalised their bond on a bridge and threw the key in the Tiber. It came to Paris around 2008 and starting posing problems in 2012.

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