Paris is removing all the “love locks” from its historic Pont des Arts. This pedestrian bridge was originally built by Napoleon, though the present structure is a replica created after the original was declared unsafe in the 1980s, and it is part of the grand riverscape that makes Paris one of the world’smost beautiful cities.
In recent years, it has become encrusted with padlocks left by amorous tourists who throw the keys in the Seine. May it never see another padlock. Vive Paris. Someone has to stand up against one of the shallowest, stupidest, phoniest expressions of love ever devised.
The architectural splendours of Europe deserve much, much better than to be choked by a plague of padlocks. Beautiful, ancient bridges from Paris to Rome are groaning under the weight of these rusting lumps that are supposed to be some kind of expression of feeling. Why does vandalising a historic monument make you a more ardent lover? How can the beauty of love be enhanced by this ugliness?
Love locks are visually repulsive. They are barnacles that accumulate in a mass of decaying metal. It is sad that the idea of love should be reduced to a copycat custom that turns tourists into dull clones. As a token of love, a padlock is about as personal as a rude Valentine’s card bought from a shop. But what makes the fad inexcusable is its magnetic attraction to some of the most beautiful cityscapes on Earth. You won’t find love locks on many motorway bridges but the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Ponte Milvio in Rome and – until this week – the Pont des Arts are covered in them.
This bizarre custom apparently started in Rome, after bestselling author Federico Moccia had the protagonists of his 2006 novel Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You)padlock a symbol of their love to a lamppost on the ancient Roman Milvian bridge. Roman teenagers took up the habit and tourists joined in. The tide of padlocks has since swept over the most romantic river crossings that people can find. It is as stupid as climbing a mountain and leaving a crisp packet at the top, or seeking out the most unspoiled beach and stubbing out cigarettes in the sand. Seriously. This is not a romantic thing to do. It is a wanton and arrogant act of destruction. It is littering. It is an attack on the very beauty that people supposedly travel to Paris or Rome to see.
You are in love, you are in a beautiful place looking at the sunset turn the Tiber, Arno or Seine a passionate red. Why spoil that perfect moment by desecrating a bridge that is centuries old and laden with the atmosphere of time? Paris is right to clamp down on this unlovely custom. At least selfies don’t leave a mark. No one should scar great cityscapes with phoney sentimental detritus. Just kiss and share the moment. A padlock won’t keep love alive, that’s up to you.