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Since the Netflix original show Emily in Paris, everyone is dreaming of living out their Paris fantasies and planning their dream vacation. Eating chocolate crescents, day drinking on a workday, and wearing the best outfits as we roam the streets of France. But anyway, with all the love, romance, and dating going on throughout the show got me thinking about one particular romantic landmark in Paris, most commonly known as “the love lock bridge.” There is so much to talk about when it comes to the history and famous tradition of the love lock bridge in Paris. So let’s get to it!

The tradition that makes the love lock bridge famous and a destination for couples from all around the world is that couples come to the bridge, write their name on a padlock, lock the padlock on the bridge, and then throw the key into the river. The tradition is meant to symbolize eternal love and commitment.

A picture of the Pont des Art with the Eglise Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois and Samaritaine in the background.
[Image Description: A picture of the Pont des Art with the Eglise Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois and Samaritaine in the background. The bridge with locks of gold and an array of other colors.] Via Unsplash
Officially, the lock bridge in Paris is called the Ponts des Arts. The bridge was built over the River Seine. It is a bridge for pedestrians that links the central square of the Palais du Louvre to the Institut de France, which makes it a popular spot for visitors and photographers. There is a total of 37 bridges across the Seine River within Paris, and only five of them are pedestrian bridges.

The bridge was built under the regime of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte ordered the construction of the bridge on 15th March 1801 and it was fully constructed by 1804. The building of the Ponts des art introduced a new building material to the era. The lock bridge in Paris is actually the first successfully built iron bridge in France and the third iron bridge built worldwide.

Unfortunately, throughout its history, the bridge has had its fair share of incidents and damage. In World War I and World War II, the lock bridge experienced damage from two aerial bombings. There were also a number of boats that collided with the bridge before it finally collapsed when a ship rammed into it in 1979. (Yikes!)

The most recent incident occurred in 2015 when the bridge railing collapsed due to the weight of its many love locks (ops!). In response, the bridge became closed to the public for repair and the government removed padlocks from the bridge. There are said to be over a million locks on the bridge today. That is definitely a lot of locks! (The cynic in me wonders how many of those couples stayed together after their Parisian trip.)

While the tradition is quite famous in the city of love, it actually did not originate in Paris, and there are several other places where people hang love locks around the world. This includes Australia, China, Italy, Serbia, and New York. The exact origin of the tradition seems to be unclear. However, there are a few theories.

One theory is that the love lock tradition came from a town in Serbia around the time of World War II. The story is that a young man and woman were in love and would meet in the middle of the night on a bridge in the town of Vrnjačka Banja. During the war, the man went away because he was in the military. When the man left, he fell in love with another woman. (Definitely not cool!) Tragically, the woman he left died from heartbreak. The tradition of placing a lock on the bridge began due to superstition. Women began putting locks on the bridge in hope that their love would be everlasting.

A picture of the bottom of a light post on the Ponte Milvio. Around the bottom of the light post is a silver chain with locks attached to it.
[Image Description: A picture of the bottom of a light post on the Ponte Milvio. Around the bottom of the light post is a silver chain with locks attached to it.] Via Wikimedia Commons
Subsequently, Italian writer Federico Moccia is believed to be responsible for influencing the current wave of the tradition. In 2006, he published a book called I Want You, which was developed into a film. The book featured a couple who put a padlock on a bridge in Rome to symbolize their love. This influenced Italian couples to place locks on the Ponte Milvio bridge as well. From this instance, lock bridges began to become a prevalent attraction across the globe. With Paris being the city of love, the love lock bridge became an extremely well-known landmark and one of the most famous love lock bridges.

Despite the history of this romantic tradition and the Pont des Art bridge, there are now numerous debates about whether this tradition should still be allowed. Placing locks on the bridge in Paris and on other love lock locations has caused damage to architectural structures. It has also caused damage to the surrounding environments. This debate has been especially prevalent since the collapse of the railing of the Pont des Art.

So before taking part in this tradition in Paris or any place else, I suggest being informed on whether or not you are allowed to do so. Fines are definitely not fun, and neither is destroying a centuries-old piece of architecture!

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  • Tatayana Allen is a recent college graduate of the University of Virginia. During her time at the university she was a Media Studies major and was in the Cavalier Marching Band. Tatayana loves anything related to fashion, music, and photography.