Colloquially known as the “City of Love,” Paris removed a contemporary landmark of sorts that attracted thousands of star-crossed (and other) lovers.
The New York Times reports that on June 1st, city workers removed thousands of padlocks attached to the wire mesh panels on the side of the Pont des Arts bridge across the Seine River. For about five years, couples from around the world expressed their affection for each other by attaching a padlock to the side of the Pont des Arts (typically with the couple’s initials etched onto it) and then throwing the key down to the river below.
Paris’s deputy mayor in charge of culture, Bruno Julliard (a Parisian name if there ever was one), insisted that the city will still remain “the capital of love, the capital of romance.” Despite the affectionate symbolism of the locks, Julliard and other Paris officials were concerned for quite some time that they posed a risk to the bridge’s infrastructure as well as to its aesthetic design.
The locks “could be seen as rather pleasant,” Julliard concedes, “but as years passed they took on such proportions that they were no longer acceptable for the cultural heritage” of Paris.
The Pont des Arts, Paris’s first metal bridge, was built in 1803 during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte and was reconstructed in the 1980s. The wire mesh panels that hitherto held the locks will be tentatively replaced by solid panels painted by local street artists. Those panels, in turn, will be permanently replaced by custom-made plexiglass designed to protect the bridge’s grillwork and to make the Seine visible (a view that the locks obstructed).
The locks themselves were quaint, cheap padlocks (roughly €5-10) bought along both sides of the Seine. However, once amassed in the thousands, the locks presented an infrastructural problem, becoming way too heavy for the bridge’s ironwork. Many people were concerned that the locks or even entire panels would fall down to the river, harming any potential boats and its passengers beneath the bridge. In fact, as city workers removed the wire meshes, many noticed that some of them were torn from its frame.
The locks weigh in at an estimated 45 tons. They will be stored in a city warehouse for the time being as officials decide what to do with them. Options include melting them down, recycling them as works of art, or donating them to charities.
No word yet on the on the estimated 700,000 keys at the bottom of the Seine.
Some tourists are saddened by the lost locks. Anthony Boccanfuso, a tourist from Washington D.C., was saddened to see the locks go.
“From a distance, you don’t know that they are locks. Close up, they may be visually ugly, but they tell stories,” Boccanfuso said. “It’s like carving your names on a tree or putting your names in wet concrete.”
“I understand the reasons for removing them, but I’m glad I saw it,” he added.
Paris is one of the largest tourist attractions in the world, drawing in an estimated 47 million tourists in 2013 alone.