The Pont des Arts (Bridge of the Arts) is one of the six bridges in Paris that are reserved for circulations douces, a nice French expression meaning soft or mild traffic, i.e. non-motorized. For several years the Pont des Arts was better known to tourists as the “love lock bridge”, though it was not the only one. My lead photo is from 2017 and shows the bridge without any locks, with the Institut de France in the background.
In February 2011 I wrote my first blog post on the love locks. It went like this:
Here’s the cheapest way to declare your eternal love for that special person in your life, the one you met this afternoon and are trying to maneuver into bed. Instead of spending forty Euros on flowers, buy a padlock at Monoprix for five Euros — or, to make a really good impression, get the € 16.50 model from Fichet-Bauche — write or inscribe both your names on it, have a romantic stroll along the Seine on a romantic evening, go out onto the romantic pedestrian bridge called Pont des Arts, declare your eternal love in whatever common language you have, if you have one, then solemnly snap the lock onto the bridge and throw both keys into the Seine.
At first the love locks (cadenas d’amour in French) seemed like a cute idea — as long as there were only a few of them.
A year later, the love locks were starting to get decidedly out of hand. Surprisingly, a few couples used combination locks, which rather missed the point of the whole thing. If one of the lovers remembered the combination, he or she could simply return and remove the lock. (Not exactly eternal love, is it?)
Public opinion in Paris gradually turned against the love locks, and the Mayor’s office began issuing statements saying that all these rusty locks were an eyesore and might endanger the stability of the bridges, which after all were part of the “national patrimony”. A private website, nolovelocks.com, went online in French and English, denouncing the love locks as vandalism and demanding (politely but firmly) that they be removed.
On a Sunday afternoon, June 8, 2014, at 5:50 pm (written “17h50” in France) a 2.4 meter section of the wire mesh fence on the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of the love locks. Police said there were no casualties, but the footbridge was immediately evacuated and closed off. Fortunately only a section of the fence had collapsed, not the entire bridge.
Various interim measures were taken to prevent further incidents, and in August 2014 The City of Paris started a new website, in French, English and Spanish, called Love Without Locks, which began with a doggerel poem:
Paris delights in its lovers,
Who come in numbers so great,
But its bridges are more fragile than their passion
And thousands of padlocks are some weight!
It also rhymed in French, but not in Spanish. The Spanish page, however, contained an extra sentence: “¡Nuestros puentes no son tan fuertes como vuestro amor!” (Our bridges are not as strong as your love!)
The English version went on: “An end to padlocks: through this site, declare your love in pictures and bridges will be spared a heavy heart. Share your photos on social network sites with the hashtag #lovewithoutlocks and they will appear on this social wall to lovers worldwide!”
Within two weeks, there were already 392 photos posted on the new website, some selfies and some not.
According to local press reports, the new website was the first step in a “global plan of action” to rid the city’s bridges of lovelocks. Another step being considered was to replace the wire mesh fences on the bridges with some other kind of installations that would not permit the attachment of locks. But they were hoping to solve the problem without resorting to repressive measures such as arresting people or fining them.
On June 1, 2015, the Pont des Arts was closed for one week while nearly a million love-locks, weighing 45 tons, were removed. Temporary wooden panels (with paintings by various artists) were installed instead of the wire-mesh fences on the sides of the bridge. A few months later these were replaced by the unbreakable glass panels that are still there today.
My photos in this post are from 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017. I revised the text in 2018.