Until 2015, any local or tourist crossing Paris’ Pont des Arts would have found — nestled among thousands of others just like it — a gold-plated lock hanging from one of its railings. On this seemingly nondescript object, they would have seen the words “J.A. + N.T. Forever” scrawled inside of a heart, an undying symbol of the undying love of the people who left it there.
Unfortunately, those who pay a visit to the Pont des Arts today will not have the pleasure of stumbling upon this intimate memento. It was part of a wall of locks that once draped the bridge, and like its companions, it was removed in 2015, on the grounds that the collective weight of the locks was weakening the bridge’s foundations. Despite their removal, however, love locks remain commonplace on bridges throughout the world, a seemingly irresistible practice for lovers of all ages. We’ll walk you through their history here, and direct you towards some of our favorite love lock-adorned bridges across the globe.
According to folklore, the tradition of love locks began in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia, during World War I, when a schoolteacher, Nada, fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. After their engagement, Relja was called to service and stationed in Greece, where he soon fell in love with a woman from the island of Corfu. Relja then broke off his engagement to Nada, who (legend has it) died not long after of a broken heart.
Following Nada’s tragic death, local women hoping to avoid the same fate began to record their names and those of their partners on padlocks and append them to the bridge where Nada and Relja once met, apparently in an effort to symbolize their eternal commitment. The bridge is called the Most Ljubavi (or “the Bridge of Love”) to this day.
As it happens, love locks didn’t catch on in other countries until 2000, for reasons that remain largely unknown. In Rome, however, they first appeared around 2007 in response to a novel by Federico Moccia, Ho voglia di te, in which the protagonists leave locks on the Ponte Milvio. Locals soon began emulating Moccia’s heroes, and tourists promptly followed suit (much to the chagrin of the city’s authorities).
The practice soon cropped up elsewhere in the world, from Cologne to Chicago. Even though the combined weight of these locks may damage the foundations of the bridges on which they’re left, love locks continue to appear wherever bridges are.
While this practice has generally been met with resistance from the powers that be, some cities have actually encouraged residents and visitors to leave locks. In 2014, for example, Edinburgh designated four panels on the Forth Road Bridge where couples could attach their padlocks. The stunt raised over £10,000 for the city’s local lifeboat service.
A timeless symbol of undying love to some and a weighty inconvenience to others, love locks seem unlikely to disappear any time soon. Should you ever need your lock back, of course, your local locksmith would be happy to help you reclaim it.