National Geographic Daily News
Photo of the Pont Des Arts covered in roses to celebrate Valentine's Day.

On Valentine's Day, "love locks" line the Pont des Arts in Paris.

Photograph by Kristy Sparow, Getty

Daniel Stone

National Geographic

Published June 16, 2014

In a city where it has known no bounds, love now has a weight limit. Shortly after 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 8, a railing of the Pont des Arts—a pedestrian bridge in Paris that spans the Seine River near the Louvre—buckled under the weight of thousands of padlocks.

The padlocks are, so to speak, a public expression of love. Couples, mainly tourists, buy them from vendors on the bridge, inscribe or write their names (Kevin & Camille ♥ ♥) on them, lock them to the railing, and throw the key into the water.

The recent railing collapse isn't the first. Last February another railing gave way. Officials evacuated the bridge and removed the damaged section, an architect was rushed to the scene to evaluate the integrity of the bridge, and maintenance crews with bolt cutters removed several hundred locks. Less than 24 hours later, the bridge was open for business as usual. Vendors sold postcards, miniature Eiffel Tower reproductions—and more love locks.

The current lock craze is relatively recent and owes much to social media sites like Twitter and Instagram, which helped spread the practice across Europe and eventually around the world, to places as far away as China.

Locks hang from bridges in Brussels and Berlin and on Moscow's Luzhkov Bridge. In most cities, police have few legal options; the only relevant laws are usually those that cite public littering.

Alt tag for SEO or screen readers
The weight of thousands of locks like these recently buckled the railing of the Pont des Arts.
Photograph by Kristy Sparow, Getty

Unlocking Alternatives

At first, clearing away the locks on the Pont des Arts was as routine as scrubbing pigeon droppings from the glass pyramid at the Louvre. But as the locks proliferated, the task became overwhelming. It didn't help that the bouquinistes who sell the locks sometimes surreptitiously damaged railings so that they'd be replaced more quickly, creating space for new locks.

This spring Paris's new mayor, Anne Hidalgo, carefully and somewhat delicately pronounced the locks a problem. "I find it to be a quite touching gesture," she told the Local, an English language paper published in France. "I understand that couples who pass through want to leave a symbolic mark on a city that meant so much to them. However, a problem arises when there are so many locks that the railings of the bridge begin to bend under their weight. It may be dangerous." Le Monde estimated that the accumulated mass of locks on the Pont des Arts had weighed as much as two semitrailers.

Hidalgo appointed deputy mayor Bruno Julliard to address the problem. Julliard decided that crowd sourcing would do the trick and issued a call to the public for solutions—until news about the recent collapse spread around the world and pushed the issue higher on the agenda. "It's rather urgent," he said. "For reasons of aesthetics and security, we have to find an alternative to these padlocks of love."

The answer, at least in Paris, remains elusive. The mayor's office has expressed concern that a ban on love locks might dampen the city's amorous allure. There's also the economic boost to vendors, who pocket 5 to 10 euros (about $6.75 to $13.50) per lock; some of the locks are quickly removed and resold.

This past January two Americans launched a petition on Change.org to build opposition to the practice. "Clearly tourists can't be trusted to act responsibly," says Lisa Taylor Huff, who's campaigning with her friend Lisa Anselmo to rid cities of the unsightly locks. Taylor Huff remembers the Pont des Arts in its pre-love-lock era. "We used to go there to sit and relax, but the last time I went with my husband, he said he felt physically sick," she said, speaking by phone from her Paris apartment.

Several weeks ago, they sent a 44-page dossier to Hidalgo, citing damage done to the city's culture—the bridge is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site—and the threat the locks pose to the river's marine life. (Discarded keys end up on the river bottom and slowly rust until removed by maintenance crews.) The city has not yet responded.

But other cities have solutions. In Moscow, locks on bridges over the Vodootvodny Canal were snipped off, and metal trees that locks could be attached to were put up. When a tree is full, it's replaced, and the old locks melted for scrap. Rome and Venice have banned locks altogether.

Last month New York City's mayor, Bill de Blasio, ordered nearly 6,000 locks removed from the Brooklyn Bridge to prevent potential damage to cars or injury to pedestrians on the walkway below.

In Brooklyn, at least, love will have to find another way.

31 comments
Cary Tennis
Cary Tennis

Fascinating. I agree with Lisa Taylor Huff: Stop damaging the bridges. And yet it is a fascinating phenomenon, a love meme. Mindless love meme maybe but still is it not amazing how a symbol can propagate so rapidly? Truly makes the metaphor "viral" come to mind: It has an organic quality (unfortunately, of the malignant variety).

rick kennerly
rick kennerly

Accademia Bridge in Venice, Italy, too.  

venice_10-2013-_0005 | Flickr - Photo Sharing! http://ow.ly/yiHmU

Fortunately, the main handrails are too big for locks, which leave just the smaller supports for attaching the amulets.  @rick kennerly 

A. Elias
A. Elias

Well, the concept are nice :) 

Tom Hanifin
Tom Hanifin

A lengthy article on the emanate extinction of elephants due to poaching for their tusks gets 3 comments and this article is already up to 23 comments. Now let me get his straight none of those cities have any cafes or restaurants any more to just go into to have a wonderful memory of. And none of those guys knows how to tattoo something like "Je t'aime," and his lady's name in any kind of artistic way...to a tree that would carry the memory of them long after they have both left this world. And yes. I know this is all just more drivel and we all need so much more to hear from the one who sees that everywhere.

Lisa Taylor Huff
Lisa Taylor Huff

Many thanks to Dan Stone for inviting Lisa Anselmo and myself to comment for this article.


One thing we hope people think twice about, before they put a lock on a bridge or monument in Paris, or any other city, is this: Whatever happened to "responsible tourism"? The love locks seems to be part of a rather egocentric shift in thinking among some (though fortunately not all) travelers, to what I call "Entitlement Tourism". Instead of following the adage of "Tread lightly. Take only photographs. Leave only footprints" when traveling, instead of taking a voyage with the idea of accumulating new experiences and special memories, an increasing number of tourists NOW actively seek ways to "leave their mark" on the place they are visiting. And many of them firmly believe they are actually ENTITLED to leave something of themselves behind when they travel, because they are spending their "hard earned money" by visiting that city or country. We have received a shocking number of emails and comments to this very effect, from those who are angry with our movement and who speak only of their "love" and how important the locks are to THEM, and they go out of their way to try and minimize the impact of their act of vandalism. Even those who admit the locks are an ugly eyesore will still defend the fact that they attached their own lock, because "we're in love and that matters more than some old bridge". That sort of self-centered attitude shows an appalling lack of respect for the places and their residents, their culture and their architecture. 


While some visitors, when they hear the downside of the love locks issue (that locks are actually a form of disrespect and vandalism, with the keys polluting the rivers and the locks damaging historic architecture, creating a public danger), will be thoughtful enough to change their minds about attaching a lock to our bridges, the "entitled tourists" really represent a problem the world over. They're the ones who will attach a padlock where it isn't wanted, needed or invited - because they believe they have the right, having spent thousands to travel there. They will scrawl their names and graffiti tags over any surface, or carve messages into the bark of trees or into the stone of the pyramids - because they are so puffed up with their own self-importance that nothing else matters. They will leave a trail of trash in their wake wherever they go because they can't be bothered to clean up after themselves - they're on vacation, let someone else do the dirty work! They will break off pieces of a coral reef or chip off a piece of landmark stone church - because "What's one little piece of coral or stone, and I really WANT one to remember my trip!" It's all about THEM: their money spent, their wants and needs, their love. The rest of us and the cities we live in and cherish and want to protect don't matter in the slightest. (Yet imagine if we traveled to THEIR town, their street, and dumped a pile of rusting locks or trash in front of their home? They'd be shouting from the rooftops about it.)


The tourism industry itself must share some of the blame in this conversation about responsible tourism as well: tour guides in Paris regularly charge money to lead visitors on tours of the locks-covered bridges and encourage their customers to add heavy, ugly locks to the piles of rusting locks on the already over-burdened structures. Tour book writers and travel bloggers routinely continue to spin the romantic "myth" of the love locks, completely ignoring the fact that these bridges in Paris are, as the article states, part of the Parisian UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such are historic monuments in their own right. "Love" locks? In Paris these days, putting a lock on a bridge isn't even about love much of the time; it's about doing something that the tour guides and web sites claim is "the cool thing to do in Paris". So of course, these sheep just want to follow along and do it, too.


Entitlement Tourism is killing the very places and views that have always made Paris, PARIS. And the City officials are at fault, for having allowed it to happen at all, let alone continue to this degree, where it represents a real danger. What will it take - someone actually being hurt by another collapsing piece of the bridge? It has to stop, or Paris will become nothing more than a metallic junk heap with nothing magical left to attract all those tourists -- and someone will be seriously hurt. The City ought to think about THAT while they are dragging their feet and refusing to take action to ban and remove the locks. 


If you want to help us restore the historic bridges and monuments of Paris to their former beauty and send a powerful message to the City officials in Paris, visit our web site at http://nolovelocks.com and sign our petition now! 


Lisa Taylor Huff, co-founder of No Love Locks™ with Lisa Anselmo


Lisa Taylor Huff: http://LisaTaylorHuff.com, http://TheBoldSoul.com

Lisa Anselmo: http://myparttimeparislife.com

Valentina Mari
Valentina Mari

I'd like to point out a mistake in the article's subtitle: this practice did not start in Paris, It was started in Rome in 2007, when couples started emulating a scene from the film Ho voglia di te (I want you)

Lisa Peacock
Lisa Peacock

Create Plastic Locks for this cause... They would be much lighter and can be made in different colors... 

Nelson Ong
Nelson Ong

Another way to take more away more from the most desperate. Those who are desperate for food and the love comes from the parents whom will give their last feed to the children first before saying goodbye. One padlock alone can probably feed a child for a week in some of the poorest nations in the world. Shame is on us in the developed nations. Want to show your love ? Don't be a copy cat !

Stan Byford
Stan Byford

I think the vendors should be the ones coming up with a solution as they are earning from this trend and it seems are causing some of the problems concerning safety themselves, they could hire someone to remove x-number of locks each week and then have to turn in those locks to continue being allowed to sell them, it would give someone a job taking less tax payers money whilst still allowing this quaint practise to continue.


Another concern not addressed is what is happening with all those keys surely they will be causing their own issues and unique problems before long?

Claire Oswalt
Claire Oswalt

When you donate money to certain charities, the ones standing in front of stores with coffee cans, you are given an artificial poppy or another type of artificial flower attached to a piece of wire so you can attach it to car antennae or mirrors or visors. Why not use those seemingly weightless flowers as a replacement for the locks? Beautiful to look at, but not causing any immediate danger to the ecosystem or the structure of the bridge railings themselves?? The act of love is still there, but less damaging.....just my two cents.....


Nguyen Tien Thanh
Nguyen Tien Thanh

I was in this bridge, it is so fantastic, many couples will be bored cause it is crashed.

Lemon Pepper
Lemon Pepper

Placing locks on the bridge as a simbol of their love is not necessary, as long as they know it within their hearts. Memories are the best and even you place a nice pretty lock it will not guarantee a good relationship unless you make an effort. Be mindful of the environment that takes care of us and that's love.

Jordana Dintruff
Jordana Dintruff

How beautiful! It's unfortunate that the railing buckled, but I'd rather see them simply strengthen bridges that are widely popular for this rather than stopping this beautiful, cultural tradition.

Hugo Brand
Hugo Brand

Would be nice if people would stop essentially vandalising everything in sight because of some over-inflated sense of entitlement. 

Too many selfish morons in the world.

Allen Alexander
Allen Alexander

How about making the stiles a bolt together affair?  When a stile becomes full, a maintenance person simply removes a bolt at each end and slides the vertical member out, and all the locks are slipped off.  From there they can be recycled as warranted.  As to that end, they can be sold back to the vendors to be resold to lovers to be reinstalled on the bridge.  The city wins by collecting sales tax and by the proceeds of the sale to the vendors.  The vendors win by have a self renewing supply of locks and the lovers win by placing the locks on their love.  Just a thought...........

Reka Ratkai
Reka Ratkai

@Lisa Peacock The keys would still cause a problem. Plastic doesn't break down easily and is a danger to wildlife.

Michael Larson
Michael Larson

@Stan Byford The vendors are mostly dodgy guys without selling permits who look like they may have had histories selling other things without permits.

It's also not a "quaint practice," it is an ugly act of mass vandalism.

Lisa Taylor Huff
Lisa Taylor Huff

@Jordana Dintruff I'd have to strongly disagree with you on this. This bridge in Paris is a HISTORIC structure. It was never intended or designed for this sort of abuse and excess weight. Why on earth should Parisian taxpayers bear the financial burden of strengthening a bridge so that tourists can come and add more and more senseless locks? This is not a "cultural tradition" in France. We want our Beautiful, Cultural BRIDGE back the way it was meant to be.

Michael Larson
Michael Larson

@Jordana Dintruff The bridges were beautiful and enjoyed for many decades, included in wonderful photography, the sites of many romantic kisses and memories before this awful trend started.  It's not a "cultural tradition" by any means. 

Matt Rafferty
Matt Rafferty

@Jordana Dintruff It's not a simple matter to strengthen a bridge, and it's also a lot less of a strain on taxpayers money to find an alternative to the locks than to focus on the problems caused by them. Just because it's done for love, doesn't make it right.

Michael Larson
Michael Larson

@Hugo Brand But how will they remember that they were there, or have any memories?  How will they know that they love one another if they can't place padlocks wherever they feel like it and litter in the river? 

Adam Boston
Adam Boston

@Allen Alexander

The fencing part the locks are attached to are easily removed and are done that way. so as stated below, when a pane is full it's simply replaced. This is an easy way to keep the maintenance low, and the cultural tradition in place. Not only does it bring in tourism into the area but it must boost the local economy in terms of vendors making more money than they would else where.


I'm not saying its 100% fine to place love locks anywhere and everywhere, but if they are all in one place, it does mean you can avoid them completely if you wish to. It also makes maintenance much easier having a dedicated area for them to be placed.


I did place a love lock into the bridge, but you can find my reasons here: http://www.roundtheworldwego.com/bucket-list/love-lock-bridge-paris/


Michael Larson
Michael Larson

@Max Webster Where is the "self-righteousness" in his comment, Max?  Is your calling people "self-righteous" moreso not itself just that?

Lisa Taylor Huff
Lisa Taylor Huff

@Adam Boston @Allen Alexander I really wish people would stop calling this a "cultural tradition" when it is NOTHING of the kind. It is only in Paris for 6 years; that does not make it a tradition. The French didn't invent it. The Parisians didn't invite it onto our bridges. It is VANDALISM, plain and simple. Let's stop romanticizing a trend that damages historic structures. That isn't "love" - that's selfishness. 

Max Webster
Max Webster

Somewhat the price of the tourism trade in my opinion. I put one on as well and would do it again if mine is removed.

Michael Larson
Michael Larson

@Max Webster So, allowing visitors into one's city means allowing them to tag whatever they want, or just vandalize things?  It's funny, but the signs I see when I go to beach locations for example, they tend to ask for the opposite sort of courtesy.  Why is that?

Adrien Couton
Adrien Couton

@Max Webster hi! just wanted to flag you forgot to use the words 'self righteous drivel' on your latest posting

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