Jogging across the Pont des Arts, the famed footbridge of Paris weighted with “love locks,” is one of my favorite first memories of my early weeks in Paris.
The hundreds of clasps – which are just your standard suitcase or gym locker padlock – hang from every inch of the bridge, which stretches across the Seine from the Louvre to the smart residential neighborhood across the river. On sunny days, they glistened.
Couples – mostly tourists but some Parisians, too – started buying the locks as a pledge of their love around 2006. Call it an upgraded version of hearts carved in tree trunks or penned on toilet stall walls. The locks certainly carry a bit more cachet.
Until this weekend, that is, when a chunk of fencing fell off under the weight of the locks. Paris’s mayor temporarily had to close the bridge down – it is now reopened again – as the city feared damage not just to the iconic footbridge itself but to tourists and cruise ships below.
It’s a disaster that some have been predicting. A friend of a friend runs the group No Love Locks, a two-woman American team trying tirelessly to raise awareness of the danger the newest fad represents. They say from Pont de Arts, the trend has spread across Europe – and even the globe. There are locks on the Eiffel Tower and the Brooklyn Bridge, and other landmarks across the world.
“Unfortunately, the historic bridges of Europe and around the world aren’t feeling the ‘love’ at all, nor are the citizens of the cities who are burdened with maintenance costs from a trend that has escalated out of control,” the two write on their website.
Most Sundays, I take advantage of the roadways along the Seine being closed down to jog: there is no greater jogging path on earth (or at least it feels to me). And I happened to run across the Pont des Arts last weekend. I couldn’t get over how the bridge seemed to have transformed since my last visit: It was a beautifully sunny day but the bridge no longer seemed beautiful. It was bulging.
There were literally thousands of locks festooned over every inch of the bridge's fences and railings. And a half-dozen vendors were adding to the mass. I almost said something to one of them, curious if he knew about the headache the new tourist fad was posing to the city. But the sweet-looking couples perusing different sizes or taking selfies in front of their newly attached latches kept me quiet – I didn’t want to spoil their fun.
Perhaps I should have. The concentration of locks on the footbridge are too burdensome, says the mayor of the arrondissement, or neighborhood, in which the bridge lies. It's not just an aesthetic issue – though purists have condemned the scarring of Paris's famed landmarks. It's a real matter of safety.
Jean-Pierre Lecoq, the local mayor, wrote on his website that the locks in toto add as much as 10 tonnes, or 22,000 pounds, to the bridge. “One can really wonder about the long-term capacity of this bridge to bear such weight,” he wrote.