With Love From Paris

Hopeless romantics lock up controversial new tradition on Paris bridge

Romantics lock up controversial new tradition on Paris bridge

Paris bridge with locks
The Pont des Arts has become a magnet for lovers' padlocks. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com

The footbridge over the river Seine offers breathtaking views of landmarks like the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the many boats that cruise across the heart of the world's most romantic city. But it's also a place where couples lock up their love.

There's hardly an open space on the fence along the Pont des Arts, the wooden bridge that traverses the wide river from the Louvre to the Left Bank. Lovers have locked onto the tradition of attaching a metal padlock scribbled with their names and throwing the key into the Seine to signify their ongoing devotion.

The bridge — a favorite of artists, young picnickers and filmmakers (it's been featured in Amélie, The Bourne Identity and the last episode of Sex and the City) — has also become a magnet of controversy. Some groups complain the locks send the wrong message of imprisonment. Others have attached oversized black hearts with a campaign to highlight violence against women in France. And some think it's simply bad graffiti.

Even the French government got into the act several years ago, removing the locks before there was such a public outcry that they reversed course.

The custom seems linked to a 2006 novel, Ho Voglia di Te (I Want You), by Italian author Federico Moccia, in which two lovers attach a padlock engraved with their names to a lamppost on the Ponte Milvio in northern Rome, then throw the key into the River Tiber.

The custom has pretty much been banned in Italy because authorities believe it damages invaluable monuments. But on a summer night in the City of Light, when the locks glisten in the setting sun, it sends the message that, indeed, love is all we need.