Throughout history, couples have left drawings on the floor, written words on walls and carved initials into trees to express their love for one another. Leaving a padlock or ‘love lock’ on a structure such as a bridge or fence has become another popular way of doing the same thing, but with a modern twist – a custom some believe may have originated in ancient China.
Couples would leave their locks, decorated with initials or names, in a place that they felt was significant to them. If this place was a bridge, they would secure the lock and throw the key into the water below, signifying their eternal bond together as a couple.
The custom of fixing a padlock to a bridge as a symbol of a couple’s love has now spread worldwide.
Recently the gesture has gained popularity and become so widespread that the issue has provoked debate amongst council authorities, local communities and tourists across the globe. Having love locks on iconic bridges, fences and lamp posts can bring a sense of culture to an area and a large collection of love locks arguably makes an intriguing visitor attraction, potentially boosting revenue from tourists. Some however are worried about damage to historical structures due to the weight of all these locks, and ask whether it’s worth having them there at all.
We look at some of the places in which love locks have appeared – and how locals and authorities have reacted to them.
Pont Des Arts in Paris
In France, the love locks have been most notable on the Pont des Arts in Paris where thousands of visitors to the city have added personalised padlocks. However, this has also raised concerns for Parisian locals.
Renowned travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall explained her worries about the Parisian love lock phenomenon: “Safety issues are certainly a concern, but for me the most disturbing aspect of this is the defacement of a beloved city landmark. The locks form a mass that can be spray-painted, encouraging graffiti and it also encourages illegal street vendors selling cheap padlocks on the bridges.”
Heather has written a multitude of travel articles about Paris since 1999 and was the founder of the Secrets in Paris website. She has touched on points that are very real for the people of Paris and as the amount of love locks ever increases, so does the concern of many locals.
The romantic ritual has become so popular that the padlocks’ collective weight has become a concern for French officials. They have vocalised their worries about the strain on the bridge and the waste being produced from the large number of keys thrown into the River Seine below. Authorities have cut down some of the locks because they fear it will eventually cause irreversible damage to the bridge. The council’s decision has caused visitors to react by also placing love locks on the Pont de l’Archevêché, close to the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Tower Bridge in London
Love locks have also appeared on Tower Bridge in London. As the capital is one of the world’s most multicultural cities, love locks with different designs, languages and mechanics provide an intriguing spectacle for tourists and locals but again, authorities have expressed some concern. They have proposed discouraging people from putting love locks on the bridge, with action already being taken to cut existing padlocks down.
British love lock manufacturers have tried to address such concerns. Leicestershire-based company LoveLocks UK has created innovative solutions to reduce the environmental impact of their custom love locks. Toran Tanner from LoveLocks UK, and son of the LoveLocks Online founder in the US, explains: “Our ethos is ‘you get what you give’ and we have always kept this at the forefront of what we do here at LoveLocks UK. We created the first Lovescape in the UK located in Kibworth with the aim of giving couples and the general public a place to put their love locks and reduce the amount of ‘rogue locks’ and waste in the community.”
Lovelocks UK’s custom locks have a one-time lock design which does not require a key. This means that the concern about waste is reduced, helping the environment. With over 30 Lovescapes set up throughout the USA and one currently based in Leicester they are helping to localise love locks, by creating dedicated structures for them. Working with local councils to find the most suitable locations means the communities will potentially gain a new landmark or attraction for tourists. Toran explains: “In the USA, we have found that some of our Lovescapes have helped reduce graffiti in the area. We are looking to create more in different countries, such as underwater in the Bahamas, which will give scuba divers an additional chance to express their love and leave their mark.”
Luzhkov Bridge in Moscow
The Luzhkov Bridge in Russia’s capital is another stunning site where the love locks have become a symbol of beauty and romance. This gesture of love has been embraced in Moscow and the city has placed dedicated love lock tree structures across the bridge, the first such tree having been created in 2007.
Hohenzollernbrücke Bridge in Cologne
The bridge in Cologne, Germany is a true spectacle as it has well over 100,000 padlocks on the fence of the bridge which spans 409 metres. The tradition started in 2008 and has quickly gained popularity. The bridge has a powerful history being one of the most important in World War II and over 60 years later, it has now become a symbol of peace and love to many visitors and locals.
Forth Road Bridge in Edinburgh
In Scotland, the authorities have encouraged people to place love locks in a dedicated area on the bridge. The money generated from sales of these padlocks and engraving services will be used to cover costs, plus additional funds will be donated to local charities. With the Forth Bridge Festival next year fast approaching, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority hope this will attract more people and give couples a way to leave a memento on the bridge.
The future of love locks
As with many trends in society today, there are both negatives and positives to the love lock phenomenon. It is important to identify potential issues with the love locks in order to solve foreseeable problems. Solutions to vandalism and damage related to the love locks have already been implemented in selected areas, and by creating designated areas and structures, future problems can be controlled and prevented.
As with the Forth Road Bridge using the love lock trend to raise money for good causes, this phenomenon when regulated can really benefit many people and help to bring communities together. It is essential that people understand the pros and cons of love locks so that the correct decisions can be made for locals and visitors around the world.
Love locks research conducted by leading UK locks supplier The Safe Shop.