Pont Des Arts in Paris and The Love Locks
I recently came across a story on the Guardian’s website that reported that Parisians are calling for the “Love Locks” that have taken hold of the Parisian bridges to be banned. It was coincidental because I’ve been following this Love lock phenomenon with some interest. They appeared here a few years ago too, completely taking over and damaging Dublin’s iconic Ha’Penny bridge.
The ones in Dublin pale into insignificance compared to the number on the bridges in Paris. When I was there just before Christmas, I was dismayed at what had happened to my favourite bridge in the city: “Pont Des Arts”. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment, but it’s both damaging to the underlying structures, and also it’s making these places somewhat seedy. I even wrote about it in my recent Paris book:
“Unlike my last visit where the bridge was filled with artists, now it is filled with tourists, either adding locks, looking for ones that they had placed previously, or just looking at the spectacle with a degree of curiosity. All around, street merchants were attempting to flog cheap locks for various prices. They were even selling markers to write on them. While the concept of the love locks is cute and romantic, it’s sad to see the cheap almost seedy commercialisation of the notion. It’s even worse to see the great Pont des Arts become little more than the physical embodiment of an internet meme. It’s an impressive sight for sure, but something deep inside me felt a sadness at what has happened to this Parisian icon.”
Before this trend started, Pont des Arts was a beautiful bridge and a lovely spot on the Seine. When I was there in 2005 I captured some shots of the bridge before it was taken over. Back then it was a place for artists and thinkers, in true keeping with the name.
Now the artists are gone, replaced with vendors selling locks and markers. And it’s not just Pont Des Arts either
According to the Guardian article the Paris City council has resisted action on the Love Locks because of their popularity, despite concerns about the damage to the bridges architecture. The official website takes a very delicate approach to the subject.
“It is wonderful to see such a vast amount of devoted couples; however the ritual is posing several problems due to the weight of the thousands of small steel padlocks. Certain sections of the railings are becoming weakened under the weight and sections of the grates require regular replacement. Frequent inspections are carried out in search of segments of bent grating that must be removed and replaced. Two railings were replaced in July and one in August. Is the Passerelle des Arts to become a victim of the lovebirds who wish to solemnise their enduring love?”
Personally, I think the cultural impact is more damaging. I get that it’s a tourist attraction and that it is a nice romantic sentiment in a city famous for its romance. But the bridges of Paris have a heritage that in my mind is more important and should be protected.
Here in Dublin the city council have been active in keeping the locks off the Ha’penny Bridge, although there doesn’t seem to be any signs up explicitly banning them. A local hackers group has even taken to “removing them as part of a ”Lock picking Club“, ”Helping" the council remove them to practice their Lock picking skills. There’s a great article in the Journal on this and the group was recently featured on a radio show on Ireland’s RTÉ Radio One radio station.
People have mixed views on the whole Love Lock trend, with some people passionately arguing for it, and others dead set against it. In my opinion, I can understand the sentiment, but heritage is important, and cultural sites should be protected. I loved visiting Pont Des Arts before the love locks came. Now, this famous landmark has become famous as a curiosity, and in my mind, that’s the real shame.