The Padlocks of Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

The love locks are a curious phenomenon in Paris. Although Parisians have a reputation for being romantic, they’re not necessarily known for spontaneity. Strikes are planned well in advance so everyone can prepare, people have their favorite bakeries which they frequent regularly, and folks keep to themselves on the métro. One might say that moderation is generally the watchword – one doesn’t want to be too gregarious, overtly emotional, or act in ways that might be too forthcoming or in a manner which might draw undue attention to oneself.

hearts - Pont des Arts, Paris

The city itself also doesn’t like to take any chances and perhaps rightfully so, to preserve the look and feel of Paris. So much so that when love locks appeared a few years ago on the Pont des Arts, there seemed to be some mystery to what actually happened to them during one fateful night.

pia and franz - Pont des Arts, Paris

However one of the French paradoxes is that there are a number of rules that must be rigidly adhered to, yet rules generally apply to others, and the city seems to be letting the locks stay on two bridges now: both the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’Archevêché. Like San Francisco, where the song lets us know that people have left their heart there, in Paris, it seems like it’s not just Parisians leaving their everlasting sentiments on the bridges. Judging from the names, drawings, and scratchings, there’s an interesting selection of cadenas of all shapes and sizes by people who’ve left their “locks” in the city.

lily and mimi - Pont des Arts, Paris

steve and katie - Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

mortiz and lisa - Pont des Arts, Paris

blake shearer - Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

bridge locks - Pont des Arts, Paris

scott and meg - Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

bonnie and clyde - Pont des Arts, Paris

s & m - Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

 Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

diane and chris - Pont des Arts, Paris

lips - Pont des Arts, Paris


There is a movement to remove and stop people from leaving locks on the bridges. You can read more about it at No Love Locks, Love Locks Threaten Paris’ beloved Pont des Arts, and Paris Bridge Weighed Down by Love.

129 comments

  • I ♥ the Love Locks of Paris. They are fun entertainment to look at, and I’ve even closed the lock on one myself (dang…for someone else!)

  • How perfectly Parisian. I love that there were so many same-sex couples and hey – what’s up with that ‘foursome’ lock??? ;-) So are you meant to throw the key in the river, or keep it – just in case? I suppose jaded practicality rather undermines the ‘grand geste romantique’!

  • I didn’t know about the Love Locks until we stumbled upon them one day. I really wanted to find and buy a lock to add to the bridge, especially because my husband and I were on an anniversary trip. Next time I’ll come prepared!

  • So glad you posted this.Last time we were in Paris,my husband and I were wondering why all the locks were on the Pont des Arts(we had walked on the bridge before but this seemed new).We’re planning on going to Paris again this year.This time maybe we”ll add our love lock.

  • Funny enough, I never thought of this as a French tradition as I saw it way before in action in Rome… But it took up Paris by storm: I was amazed by the amount of locks encountered on Pont de l’Archeveché last month. There is hardly room for any more: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacedlaw/6856375456/ !

  • I’m intrigued by how many pre-engraved locks there are – clearly tourists are no more spontaneous than Parisians!

  • They’re all over Europe! The first time I saw them was in Prague on a tiny Bridge near the Lennon Wall. I had no idea what they were until a stranger told me. I love that some people get them specially engraved an some just drew locks on the cement if they were unprepared. After that I saw them in almost every city I visited. Apparently no one really knows why or where they started for sure. It’s a lovely idea though.

  • yes, large-scale vandalism on (what used to be) the most beautiful footbridge in paris, isn’t it wonderful. thank you, tourists.

  • How romantic! I just love this Parisian version of hearts and initials engraved on a tree or park bench or written in cement. Love will find a place to record itself.

  • David, I do not see any token of your feelings for “someone” secured to the bridge. Would that be considered a Public Display of Affection?

  • You and I both have a love for this bridge. I blogged it too, on my travel blog (http://bit.ly/ftkVm5) Now that I am in love, I want to go back and “lock it in!”……Happy Easter, David. Hope you find your chocolate bunnies!!!!!!!!!! :))

  • This is awesome. I remember seeing this in Prague like anotehr commenter said. I must come prepared! The search for the perfect lock begins.

  • There is nothing French or Parisian in this and it is merely tourist who ruin a perfectly beautiful bridge. I think the city of Paris comes on a regular basis and cuts them all. If they don’t they should

  • Love it! I’m an American but was just in Paris a few weeks ago and did an engagement session on the Pont des Arts. Your blog is an amazing resource, David! http://www.summerstreetphotography.com/2012/03/26/rachel-jilali-engaged/#comments

  • They have something very similar in Seoul, except way way more over the top. At Namsan Tower, they have a fence full of padlocks like this. And a few “trees”, purposely built I guess after the whole thing took off. I just found somebody’s video on youtube of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SprF7uAnbc

  • I have just had a lock engraved with my name and the name of my spouse of 33 years. If it makes it past the TSA, I will present it to her on the Pont des Arts in early May. With luck, there will be space for one more lock, from Portland, Oregon.

    Thank you, David. I believe our trip to Paris will be just a bit better than we might have hoped- with the inclusion of some points of interest I learned about from your blog. Perhaps we will see you at A l’Etoile d’Or?

  • c’est incroyable!

    Everything you write about the city is such great information. A friend of mine from here in Seattle is leaving on Sunday to go to Paris. There’s so many things here that I wish I would’ve remembered to tell her!

  • I think this is a huge problem and shows how acts of vandalism get romanticized by some until it becomes an unsightly problem for Paris.

    I was there last September and you could not see the beauty of the bridges for the rusting, junky locks attached to every conceivable surface of these beautiful bridges -in addition, now some people seem to think that tying rubbish like pieces of plastic bags and rags on the bridges is also romantic!

    Before you get carried away with the idea of this, do some research and find out what a huge problem and eyesore this is becoming to many, many of the landmarks of Paris – don’t be part of it!

  • I make a trip on the Ponts des Arts during every visit to Paris because I get such a kick out of looking at all the locks. They are fascinating!

  • My husband and I will be traveling to Paris in August for our 25th anniversary. Maybe we should bring a lock along. :)

  • i love this, so cool and parisian. you are right about the odd balance between reserve and genuine feeling/spontaneity. lovely.

  • It almost has the look of an art installation when there are enough of them. A combination lock? I guess you can unlock it when you break-up.

    Saw this at the Amalfi Coast at really high overlooks. A bit more romantic than a bridge. Italians are maybe more spontaneous.

  • We’re on vacation in Paris now…. and on our first day in Paris, last Friday, my boyfriend brought me to Pont de l’Archevêché– and proposed! (and I said OUI!)

    I didn’t even know about the locks- and then after the charming “ceremony” of locking our cadena I turned around and he was pulling out the ring.

    Most memorable trip ever.

  • I’m really sorry to see that you are encouraging this ugly and trashy practice. There is nothing Parisian about it, and it is an ecological problem for the city to deal with.

  • Some French friends have told me they like it because it’s a gesture done “by the people” and a mode of free expression – which others would like them cut down.

    One issue that is taking on great importance is that Paris is set to construct the tallest building in Europe and more skyscrapers in the works.

    Like most major cities, Paris is struggling to find a balance between progress, and preservation.

  • This phenomenon also hit the bridges here in Spain although the locks were often removed! As long as the don’t pose any risk to the stability of the bridges I really like the trend, I like it’s a great example of a sort of constantly evolving street art!

  • I’ve also seen Love Locks in Cologne Germany — it doesn’t seem to have caught on in London (yet!?)

  • I have to say I must agree with the few people not liking the locks in the comments… At first it was a fun novelty, but it has now become just plain ugly, is reaching 2 bridges now (maybe more ?), and all those people are throwing the keys in the Seine (isn’t that the most romantic form of pollution you can find ?).

    I’ve always thought that being romantic is finding the thing (little or big) that is unique to your couple and shows how much you pay attention and how much you care. I find it weird that people think following a trend and doing the same thing thousands of people are doing in different countries is “romantic”…

  • Never seen this before. It’s kind of sweet. Thanks for sharing!

  • Wow, amazing!

  • David~how poetic. Somehow I find these locks, the profusion, the concrete symbolization of love beautiful.Not to mention I love rusty stuff. Tried to pin on Pinterest…got message “not allowed”…Is this true? Full credit will of course be yours!

  • I also must agree with those people who find these “love locks” a destruction of property and an eyesore. It’s spreading even further throughout Paris, and I understand even the beautiful lamp posts on the Pont Alexandre III are also now affected.

    How is mass vandalism a romantic gesture? Why stop there? Why not spray paint your message of love on the side of Notre Dame? Isn’t that romantic?

  • It’s sadly so overdone at this point even here in Italy. All thanks to a teen-romance novel/film by Federico Moccia.

    Paula’s got a point-there’s really no need to encourage visitors or anyone in what is at this point a meaningless gesture. Not unless you leave your names and addresses so we can make you come back and remove the lock after you’ve broken up.

  • When I was in Paris last year I had seen these and wondered what the meaning behind them was. Thanks so much for the clarity!! I loved the concept and of course took photos of the ones with profanity (I have 3 boys and knew they would appreciate). I need another trip to Paris very, very soon.

  • We walked the bridge in January and were just sorry we didn’t have locks. I loved the thought behind it as well as the visual : )

  • Im so surprised at all the people calling these locks an eyesore and vandalism. I just discovered the locks on my last trip to Paris and thought them incredibly beautiful. I consider it along the same line as all of the amazing graffiti art you find throughout the city. It is a form of artistic expression that I find so much a part of Paris, especially in what most people think of as the city of love.

  • I love the photos! And I cannot believe that after living here for 2 years, I have not gone to really look at the love locks of Paris, although I have gone over the Pont des Arts numerous times before. I think I might go and put on a love lock for myself & my love one day, as cheesy as it is.

  • I’m pretty sure this started in Italy, where it was described in a teen novel by Federico Moccia, Ho Voglio di Te. They first started showing up on the Ponte Milvio, a pedestrian bridge in Rome, in 2006, when he wrote the book and one of the characters did this. Now they are pretty much on anything that will stand still.

  • I believe I first saw this phenomena on The Great Wall in China. At first it struck me as charming but now not so much but rather as another type of graffiti. By the time I return to Paris I hope to see the bridges undecorated.

  • They do this in Germany as well and I am afraid that I belong to the group who finds it to be a tacky eyesore. Here in Frankfurt they are ruining a beautiful old iron bridge with this nonsense. I personally think that it is the local lock sellers who are encouraging the practice by selling it as a ”tradition”.

  • All these comments about an eyesore, the love locks are certainly more interesting to look at than the chain link fence that is attached to the pretty bridge.

  • Oh my, my. Some very angry folks about the nature of “vandalism” imposed by the locks. Seems to me that this is relatively benign when one considers the other sorts of items/gestures/symbols that could be “defaming” the bridge. Besides, they’re temporary. The City will clip them all soon enough, as the bridge cannot, quite simply, sustain weight in that capacity – in addition to the foot traffic and weather conditions it endures. Most structures are not engineered with such an addition in mind.

    However, it does seem to me that, with this gesture towards romance taking over in major cities, that perhaps cities should look towards erecting a designated chain-link wall of sorts for such locks…one meant to endure the weight. This way, the integrity of the structures currently attracting “defamation” are preserved – particularly those with longer, greater histories. Then, set an Annual CUT THE LOCK! Day in each city. That’ll keep the masses entertained enough.

    • That’s an interesting analysis. I know that in New York, items were chained to fences to memorialize folks lost in 9/11. Don’t know if they were removed, or are still there. But they were pretty moving to see and read.

      But you’re right that the bridges may start to become compromised under the additional weight and another “cut the locks” day may be on the horizon…

  • These locks have started to appear in other places too. I first saw them in Hawaii, the island of Oahu, on a hike to a picturesque point-above a lighthouse, overlooking the ocean. When I was there, there were only about ten locks—I’m sure the number has increased by now.

  • What a great story and photos. How is your apartment renovation coming along? Are you moved in and unpacked?

  • I’m surprised nobody put one name on each of two locks – then locked them together.

  • There was a documentary that I recently saw on this paddlock. Appearently, it is getting heavier (no wonder, Lol) and that it could crumble under the weigth of all those locks. Just hope this does not happen to anyone while they are hanging their locks. Based on the latter, I’d be too scared to hang a lock there.

  • Not more than 3 weeks ago we saw this same phenomenon in Busan, South Korea, on the fence around a tower in the middle of the city. Locks were being sold in a small tourist store, and props, heart shaped with flowers around a seating area, were set up for taking photos of romantic couples. Those wishing to be photographed seemed mostly to be young girls.

  • Besides it being straight out vandalism, and money for the lock sellers, it is hilarious that in the city of ‘light and love’ and where monogamy isn’t a strong factor in relationships, that so many people are performing a ‘locking’ ceremony.

    Oh well, I am sure the sentiments may last until the next mornng!

  • well, i’m heartened that there are a few other people who agree that this is vandalism pure and simple – i appreciate the analogy between doing this and spray-painting notre dame, the only difference being that you could remove the spray paint with (relatively) little damage to the building, whereas, the weight of this rusting, degrading “cadenas” might eventually compromise the stability of a centuries-old footbridge.
    and could somebody please explain to me in what way this is parisian, as stated by some? this is done not by parisians, but by tourists.
    i don’t think paris should be turned into a museum, but this is not “progress”.

  • I first saw the “Love padlocks” a few years ago in Siberia, on the banks of the Yenisei River that runs through Krasnoyarsk. I then thought it was a local tradition, but later learned it was the custom in other places as well.

  • and seriously, paris is my HOME. i wouldn’t come to your home, choose the most beautiful part and then proceed to place some difficult-to-remove ugly memento of myself and my feelings (whatever they may be) upon it.

  • Agreed rouquin ricain. And you as a taxpayer in Paris get the added bonus of paying for the removal of the ugly memento, and/or the reconstruction of the bridge. How thoughtful of people.

  • Speaking of chained items, there’s a huge blow-up rat that makes the rounds of NYC when workers are dissatified with labor conditions in restaurants and hotels.
    http://www.dnainfo.com/20111214/chelsea-hells-kitchen/workers-protest-hotel-chelsea-renovation-with-giant-rat

    I completely missed these lock-bridges while in Paris, but I certainly saw a lot of locksmiths staying in the 11th arron…

  • Craig Ferguson, a late night host on CBS did an entire week in Paris and he featured these locks and put his own on as well. If you can check out his Paris week shows, he is a brilliant comedian, writer and actor and I enjoyed them immensely. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/18/arts/television/craig-ferguson-tapes-the-late-late-show-in-paris.html

    Also there is a television star in Paris who has copied Craig’s show entirely and Craig actually had him on his show to confront him in Craig’s usual style, with humor, intelligence, wit, charm and of course sarcasm at the French tv man’s blatant rip off of his show and yet I think Craig was strangely proud that “his american tv show” was also a big hit in France….what a weird world sometimes.

  • I agree that by their sheer number, the locks may be a problem even though the initial sentiment was sweet. The graffiti that is rampant in Paris on walls, metro stations and monuments is way more unsightly, no doubt not perpetrated by tourists and not motivated by love.

  • If the offended Parisians love their footbridge so much and care for its preservation…why are the foot boards in such a state of mossy disrepair?

  • Never seen this–tres, tres romatic! Thanks for the pics.

  • I can’t help but wonder if those protesting the love locks would have been the same people declaring the Eiffel Tower an eyesore and abomination when it was constructed.

  • Clearly international. We saw them in Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, and Vienna

  • Love this post! Thank you for continuing to inspire me to make the move to Paris! Am in the middle of your book: The Sweet Life in Paris, and am enjoying every word of it!

  • It’s sad to see this narcissistic vandalism being promoted as romantic.

  • My lock is there! My husband and I hope to find it when we return.

  • No longer allowed on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence at the Cellini bust. There’s a sign stating offenders will be fined 160Euro. But I spotted some at the end of the bridge near the Buccellati jewelry store.

    Never inclined to do this myself – it’s akin to the gross chewed up gum and notes that one sees at the alleged home of Giulietta in Verona.

  • um, did somebody really just compare the accumulation of these cheap rusty locks to the eiffel tower, a piece of engineering and logistical genius decades ahead of its time??? i’d hate to think what Mr Eiffel would think of that.
    whatever you think of the eiffel tower or modern architecture or any artistic endeavor actually, it has a plan, structure, this is just junk brought by tourists who’ll never have to look at it ever again.
    and i don’t think anybody has a right to comment on this issue unless they visited the pont des arts 1) before the locks (magnificent, the louvre behind, the institut de france ahead, the seine and aforementioned eiffel tower all around) and 2) after the locks (think landfill).

  • and how many of these people really do this as a romantic gesture? i’d guess the overwhelming majority do it just because their guide book or friends mentioned it and they thought it’d be “cool”.

  • It’s better than carving initials on a living tree – but just barely. Agree 100% with Rouquin Ricain.

  • ‘ A lock on love’….

    sweet, sweet, sweet…

    :)

  • Maybe we should all suggest that people start attaching padlocks to Les Halles from now on, and it will eventually sink and disappear…and they can start all over, completely from scratch?

  • You can see this on many Spanish and Italian bridges, too.

  • They’re really beautiful.

  • Fascinating! Great ‘photo’ account of this Parisian phenomenon!

  • Absolutely disagree with some of the folks! Ever heard of spontaneous art?

  • Really I can’t picture any French Parisian (there are many Parisians from all over the world), leaving a lock on a Parisian bridge. Although they might do it in another country where nobody can recognize them… ;-)

  • There is a mountain in China that hosts a line of locks, but in that case you have to climb a gazillion steps to get there. I think that speaks more to the strength of love, as so much effort is involved.LOL

  • Saw this in Berlin too. The “herd mentality” aspect of it sort of kills the romance a bit I think :/

  • I think we left ours on the l’Archevêché. That was last June, on the downstream side of the bridge. We got married in August. We are hoping to see it again this August.

  • Please do NOT vandalise bridges in this way. This is not a French or Parisian tradition. It is a stupid practice by tourists who think it’s OK to change the appearance of the city they are visiting. I’m disappointed that DL should encourage it by publishing dozens of photos here.

  • In many places in the former Soviet Union there is a tradition to put padlock on the bridge on your wedding day. After the wedding ceremony, a newly married couple lock it and then throw the key in the water, so the padlock can’t be opened the same as marriage can’t be divorced.
    Anyway that’s the tradition there.

  • I love your posts! Your blog inspired me so much, I have tried starting my own! Thanks for everything!!

  • Seen it all over Italy too…seems to be the rage the last few years. I personally liked the Pont des Arts before the locks…though it’s nice to stroll and see all the love…surely the City of Paris will find some better installation, eventually…

  • I loved this. My fiance and I are making our first trip to Paris on May 7th for our honeymoon :) After reading this today we are going to get a lock engraved to leave there. So excited!

  • My favorite are the people that use combination locks…just in case they change their mind later? lol

  • Yep, ruined a perfectly fine, beautiful bridge. Throwing the keys in the river is even more disgusting. Show your love to the ciy by not defacing it! This isn’t so much a grand gesture of love as an immature PDA.

    • There are, unfortunately, quite a few ways cities get defaced: citizens leaving dog droppings on the ground (a major problem in Paris), the constant honking of horns and motor scooters without mufflers (noise pollution), unsightly buildings that remain for decades and decades, and many are concerned because the city of Paris is aiming to “remodel” the old bouquinistes along the Seine.

      Another issue is the trash and cigarette butts on the street (and in the Seine), which continue to be a blight on this beautiful city. I don’t quite know why these things/defacements aren’t being addressed by those who love Paris.

  • Those are interesting points David. However, rarely does one read a magazine article or blog written about Paris where visitors are encouraged to add to the dog droppings, or leave their trash or cigarette butts on the street.

    • The point is that if people love the city, they should participate and be concerned about the various aspects of the “defacement” – instead of picking on one particular aspect. The dog droppings are truly disgusting and you can’t walk a block without being faced with a pile of dog poo. There is little to no enforcement of the laws against people who don’t pick up after their dogs and I would rather see locks attached to a bridge than piles of dog sh*t on the sidewalks.

  • Well I imagine that the majority of the dog sh*t problem is due to the locals, and I’m not a voting, taxpaying citizen, so it’s not a problem I can address.

    However, I am a fairly frequent visitor to Paris. And the huge majority of people defacing the bridges with locks are tourists, so personally if I can dissuade a few blog reading tourists from further adding to the destruction of the bridges (and also increasing the burden to taxpayers by the way), then I will try to.

    Obviously it’s only my opinion, and clearly seems contrary to your blog readers here, who are still content to visit a foreign city and willingly add to the pollution of the Seine and decay of bridges and landmarks under the guise of romance and art.

    Again, I can’t really comment on the enforcement of laws in a city where I don’t reside or pay taxes. But to be honest, encouraging tourists to continue with vandalism is irresponsible in my opinion.

  • I agree with you, David, dog merde is the worst offender in Paris.(Other French cities don’t have that big of a problem with it.) Paris is really a dirty city compared to other big cities. But what can we do as tourists to make city officials improve the situation?

  • nina: How about we start an international letter-writing campaign, with millions of folks saying they won’t visit the city until all of the dog doo is all removed from the sidewalks?

    That’d clean the city right up – pronto!
    : )

  • I absolutely love that!

  • My husband reminded that we had seen this on our visit to Paris in ’07 while visiting Venice last April. It was his idea (!) to buy a padlock. We painted it with our initials while eating lunch. Upon reaching the Accademia Bridge we added our padlock & vowed to return to this unforgettable city!

  • How romantic!

  • What a ludicrous idea that the added weight could destabilize the afore mentioned bridge! Every service waggon by Paris Environment puts more on the scale than all locks together.
    Apart from this I’m pretty astonished by the disparity of opions on this topic. I have to admit I never regarded it as a problem cause by tourists (as I attached my padlock on my 25th anniversary on Hohenzollern bridge Köln) but in cities of high touristic appreciation this may be so. Defacing? Vandalism (this surely is a meaning of vandalism I wasn’t previously aware of)? I wonder.

  • I took several pictures of those locks, and found they really added an imperfectly human touch to an almost too beautiful city… and for some reason, the one that stands out in my mind because of its oddity is Lamb Love… [?]

  • Just passed this on to my stepson and his new wife who will visit Paris in June…I bet there will be a new love lock “Diana and Stephen June 2012″!!! Thanks

  • How sad Parisians are SO moderate, I never would have guessed.. Hope this is a good example for Parisian to become more spontaneous, if they just look.

  • After reading all the comments I believe I am swayed to not putting more
    “love locks” on any bridges anywhere. I think it is a self-centered act.
    Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, it would trash up the beautiful ancient bridge. The beauty of the place should surfice. Take a picture for goodness sake.

  • We have those same love locks here in Tampere, Finland too. You can even buy locks at a hotel with your names carved on it…

  • in the defense of the city of paris, i have to say that in the last 15 years i’ve lived here, i’ve seen a very marked improvement dog-poo-wise. although i still come across it every once in a while, i haven’t seen a dog owner NOT pick up their dog’s droppings in many, many years. and i know for a fact that in the last few years many fines have been given to dog-poo-offenders. and the motorised street cleaners do a pretty good job in keeping the city of lights clean.

  • These love locks are hugely common in China. They are often heart-shaped with characters engraved in the surface, and are mostly seen at temples, gardens or other places of historical importance.

  • I first saw this idea in Florence, on the Ponte Vecchio, I think. Apparently the idea is you write your names on the lock and then throw away the key – love everlasting. It’s cute but I wonder if they don’t get cleared out from time to time to make room for new ones?

  • Huh after reading some of the above comments I must add that I went to Florence in 2004 and 2008, so things might have changed since then.