No one really knows where this practice originated. Some say it started in Rome on the bridge Ponte Milvio, after a 2007 film adaptation of the book I Want You by Italian author Federico Moccia
Some say it is based on a story of unrequited love in Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia prior to the First World War. A schoolmistress named Nada fell in love with Relja, a Serbian officer. When Relja went to war in Greece, he fell in love with a local woman from Corfu. Nada died of a broken heart after Rejlja broke off their engagement. Hearing Nada’s story, young girls from the same village wanted to protect their own love from a similar fate. They started writing their names along with the names of the men they loved on padlocks and bound them on the bridge Most Ljubavi (the Bridge of Love) where Rejlja and Nada used to meet. The keys were then thrown into the Vrnjačka River below so no one could “unlock” their love.
The practice has gained popularity all over the world. I have seen with my own eyes love locks hang on many bridges including the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, Westminster Bridge in London and the Accademia Bridge that spans the Grand Canal in Venice.
Accademia Bridge in Venice, Italy (Photo: Vincent Le)
Not so long ago, the Distillery District, a very popular tourist location in Toronto also put up a wall dedicated to Love Locks.
Distillery District, Toronto, Canada (Photo: Vincent Le)
From Seoul to Moscow “love trees” bear the great weight of love locks.
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Even famous mountains in China such Mount Huang and Mount Hua are now packed with love locks. Couples throw the keys into the valleys below.
Mount Huang, China
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The most famous love lock location is on the Pont des Arts Bridge over the river Seine in the city of romance, Paris. According to CNN, “the bridge carries more than 700,000 locks with an estimated combined weight roughly the same as 20 elephants.”
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In June 2014, part of the railings of this beautiful and historic arch bridge built by Napoleon collapsed under the weight of the love locks. Since then Paris joined Rome and many cities around the world to ban and remove locks from their landscapes. There are opposing views on the merit of love locks. But having witnessed first-hand how they can ruin the beauty of many iconic landmarks, I whole heartedly support the decision. It’s not an issue when a city builds dedicated structures for such sentimental practice like the wall in the Distillery District in Toronto, or the “love trees” in Moscow. Defacing historic monuments and filling up UNESCO World Heritage sites with padlocks, however, is not acceptable.
Does the act of attaching a padlock and throwing away the key really make us more devoted lovers? The truth is you don’t need a padlock to immortalize your love, it’s up to you to keep your love alive. So if you are blessed enough to be in a beautiful place with the one you cherish, “lock” your love with a warm embrace and seal it with a kiss.