Original text by Elisabeth Marcadet, Updated by Kate Reeves
Love locks in Paris pose a tricky conundrum.
Paris is the eternal city for lovers. Year after year it’s a top destination for couples, proposals, engagement photoshoots and those looking to reignite that spark several years into a relationship or celebrate a special anniversary .
If you visit Paris en amoureux for a romantic weekend this clichéd romantic graffiti may well end up tempting you too!
So let us find out if there’s any harm behind these Lovebirds larking around on holidays.
Many of you many wonder: What is this tradition all about and when did it start?
One theory is that the answer can be found in an ll-fated Serbian love story 100 years back:
In the spa town of Vrnjacka Banja, a school teacher named Nada fell in love with Relja her officer beau. Since it was during the First World War, Relja had to go and fight in Greece. The young lovers separated, Relja fell in love with another woman in Corfu, breaking off his engagement to Nada. She never recovered, dying from heartbreak.
Other young women from Vrnjacka Banja understandably wanted to protect their own budding relationships from meeting a similar fate. Hence they got in the habit of writing the couple’s names on a padlock and fixing it on the railings of the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet.
Elsewhere in Europe Love Locks started cropping up on bridges and railings near famous landmarks in the 2000s.
The Ponte Milvio in Rome was a particularly popular destination, which can be explained by the 2006 book ‘I Want You’ by Italian author Federico Moccia. Gracing the big screen one year later with a film adaptation.
Back in Paris these Love locks are known as les Les cadenas d’amour. The custom, like in all large European cities, is to attach the padlock to public property in the city, and then throw away the key, thus fixing the couple’s love for all eternity.
As these locks are often attached to Parisian bridges such as the Pont-Neuf or the Pont des Arts, it is commonplace for couples to throw away the key into the river below.
Very often these locks have the couples initials or a meaningful date either scratched into the metal with a sharp object, such as a key, or scrawled on with a felt tip pen.
More professional options are offered to have one’s love lock formally engraved. An option which perhaps appeals to couples really invested in the project.
We never really want to think about the end of a love story but it does pose understandable problems for these locked on declarations of love.
Certain exes may want their now tarnished romantic souvenir removed, feeling uncomfortable that a reminder of this past affair is still out there in Paris for all to see.
Whilst perhaps not as expensive and painful as removing the tattoo of an ex-lover’s name, there is still a plane ticket and heavy duty metal cutter shears to purchase!
Perhaps this is something to consider – should you and your chéri ever part ways, how would you feel?
I can understand the appeal. The backdrop of Paris is enough to make even the most secondary of suitors look like the ideal beau.
Strolling through the city, the architecture and culture both lend themselves to romance:
You might walk hand in hand along the Seine as the sun fades to that golden hour light. Stopping for a picnic on the cobblestoned banks of the river is the stage in your soirée – someone effortlessly producing a bottle of chilled wine, a corkscrew and snacks from a bag.
Then walking back over one of the many bridges, it’s difficult to resist the urge to embrace overlooking the most clichéd romantic views Paris has to offer.
You would be hard pushed not to notice the Love Locks attached to bridge railings. And even if you didn’t come prepared, there is more than likely someone nearby ready to sell you the relevant material to leave your mark.
Here a pair of Lovers steal a kiss on the Pont des Arts, Photo credit Discover Walks.
Paris has a City Hall which takes decisions concerning urban development, public spaces and the like. As you might imagine this has been somewhat of a headache for them:
On one hand, they took the decision not to fine tourists or vendors, which could certainly create the unfortunate impression of bureaucrats anti-romance.
At the same time, they can’t really just sit there doing nothing as these heritage sites are harmed by this heavy, rust prone graffiti.
Things culminated when nearly 2 and a half metres of the Pont des Arts bridge fell into the Seine in 2014. The previous summer part of the parapet had collapsed into the river too.
Authorities claimed that the last thing they wanted to do was to ‘stigmatise’ young lovers in the city. That said, they were concerned for public safety, both on the bridge and in the river for the bateaux mouches passing underneath.
For Love Locks Lovebirds putting their padlocks in Paris is a grand gesture embodying their eternal love. And in fact one couple’s Love Lock isn’t going to do much harm. The problem arises when the trend goes viral and more and more amorous metal wielding tourists head for the bridges and monuments.
So let’s take a look at the numbers!
In 2015 just days before the eventual removal of all this weighty romance, they city counted 1 million padlocks amounting to 45 tonnes of metal.
Love Locks were also removed from the Pont de l’Archeveche, near Notre Dame cathedral in the same preservation effort.
Peeping through the Love Locks at a bateau mouche. Photo credit, Discover Walks.
I love wandering through Paris taking small pictures on street corners and even close-ups of individual details: These often include Street Art, or Graffiti if going by another name.
The infamous Street Artist Invader (who specialises in gaming inspired mosaic aliens), has left some of the prettiest pictures plastered on traditional Parisian buildings, often near street signs.
I must admit, in my Instagram repertoire hailing back to 2013, close ups of Space Invaders and Love Locks featured heavily.
Much like other ‘add ons’ or community projects or fringe arty projects, these Love Locks can be really pretty in the right place and lighting.
They negate the need to know how to take a good photo. With an iPhone or camera, you simply focus in on the Love Locks in the foreground and the Parisian paysage behind takes on a romantic soft-focus blur and, Voilà – looks like you know what you’re doing with composition.
So aesthetically and certainly in terms of what they represent only a few would consider themselves anti-Love Lock hardliners.
Some people might even argue that after a decade or more of adorning the city that Love locks are themselves a romantic tradition to preserve in Paris today.
Notre Dame watching over Paris love locks on the Pont de l’Archevêché
But can a mass movement slip seamlessly into a historical heritage, if it is essentially causing harm?
This is the question the movement ‘No Love Locks Paris‘ pose. Using the tagline: “Free your love. Save our Bridges.”
I think this succinct motto is smart. It’s a double whammy of short three word sentences. The implication is that love isn’t something to lock on to a bridge, showing the darker side of a jealous or untrusting psychology that wants to ‘lock’ love somehow, hoping it will never change or leave, but fearing the worst.
Some Psychiatrists would argue that this is the very foundation and attraction of romantic love; the fact that we can never be 110% sure that an affair, or even long term commitment or marriage will last a lifetime. The delicate and uncertain nature of love, is perhaps why we value it so highly whilst it is there.
Whether tourists will respond to Parisians’ pleas is yet to be seen.
I would be in favour of other romantic traditions taking the lead. Afterall, in today’s world, if we want to continue to travel and enjoy the perks of millennial culture materialism to which we have become so accustomed, something’s got to give.
This starts as simply as taking your own water bottle with you, showing a certain amount of respect to your local or holiday environment and appreciating that in cities, there are so many of us that it’s a struggle to keep them clean if we don’t all pitch in.
If we turn to sustainable souvenirs and worthy romance, why not leave something beautiful but just for a day?
You could leave a beautiful quotation, song lyric or verse of poetry which is meaningful to both of you in chalk on a paving stone, much like the street artists in Beaubourg near the Centre Pompidou.
There is a beautiful wall in a small Parisian park just behind metro Abbesses where you could take a selfie in front of the “mur des je t’aime”. This installation is composed on 40 metres squared of timing with ‘I love you’ written repeatedly in 250 languages.
Nearby in Montmartre, arguably the most romantic quartier of Paris and a village within the city there are some incredible places to let rip the romance.
La maison Rose has some exceptional photo opportunities in the street sweeping down to its beautiful facade.
You may enjoy yourself here a little more if you avoid ‘peak hours’ or visit outside high season. Although if you’re turning downhill from the Place du Tertre this stretch will seem positively laid back.
Walking only a little way down the butte and hill streets to the 9th arrondissement you will find a museum celebrating romance tucked away on the rue Chaptal.
The Musée de la Vie romantique celebrates romantic love with an entire private mansion dedicated to this effect.
In the permanent collection you can admire the works of romantic painters. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and has a current collaboration and offering with the Petit Palais looking at ‘Romantic Paris and its literary salons from 1815-1848’.
The architecture of the museum is very special. Perfectly set off in pretty pastels, the museum and its gardens are especially inviting in late Summer and early Spring.
The museum of romantic life reopened its doors to the public on June 22nd after 8 months of renovation work, primarily to help with accessibility.
I have been a fan of this particular museum for a long time, and found out about the planned temporary closure when looking for reception venues – hopeless romantic that I am, the poetry of celebrating a marriage at the Musée de la vie Romantique appealed. If the idea captures your imagination, you can contact the museum directly to discuss privatisation possibilities.
My last idea for not ironmonger identified graffiti based romance in Paris is Ice cream Island, better known as Île Saint Louis.
This is one of the most picturesque places in central Paris, set in the Seine and surrounded by soaring cinematic architecture. Unlike other areas beloved by tourists, if you visit Île Saint Louis on a weekday when it isn’t especially hot or sunny, you might just luck out and have the place to yourselves.
On arrival, take a moment to wander the island’s small streets. You don’t really need the help of a map or any special directions as you should stumble upon these delicious dairy delicacies all on your own.
However, if you would like a nudge in the right direction, Berthillon can be found located at:
29-31 rue Saint-Louis en l’île
Whatever you choose to do on your romantic city break in Paris don’t put a lock on a bridge or heritage monument.
If the Marie de Paris ends up putting up the Love Lock metal trees discussed, by all means hang it on one of them. But I haven’t seen any yet at the time of writing.
Even if you don’t risk a fine or any official discipline locking your love all over the city, it’s not a good look and does a lot of damage. It also costs the city money and you might not feel as great about it in a few years.
I would encourage you to make your own romance in Paris, which is as individual as you both of you and your relationship.