And just as many romances melt away, now many of the locks will most likely suffer the same fate as the Paris city fathers try to preserve the bridge.
City workers, using a crane and wheeled dollies, began to dismantle the wire mesh panels on which hundreds of thousands of lovers expressed their affections in what they thought would be an ironclad statement: a metal lock, usually etched with the couple’s initials, attached to the bridge, and the key tossed into the Seine below.
Bruno Julliard, the deputy mayor in charge of culture, who supervised the removal of the locks, tried to be sensitive to the feelings of those who had placed them there, saying that Paris was still “the capital of love, the capital of romance.”
City officials have for months discussed removing the locks and protecting the bridge, first built in the early 1800s and reconstructed in the 1980s. Worries about seeming insensitive or oblivious to the popularity of such a lasting declaration of affection were one factor officials considered when they tried to figure out how best to restore the landmark bridge.
Mr. Julliard said the removal of the locks, however unsentimental, was necessary for security and aesthetic reasons.
The city will temporarily replace the bridge’s lock-laden grills this week with panels painted by street artists, and it will later replace those with custom-made plexiglass to protect the historic iron grillwork. The plexiglass will allow pedestrians to once again see the Seine through the grillwork. The locks had obscured the view.
When locks first began to appear more than five years ago, some “could be seen as rather pleasant, but as years passed they took on such proportions that they were no longer acceptable for the cultural heritage” of Paris, Mr. Julliard said.
Most of the locks look rather flimsy, bought for 5 or 10 euros ($5.50 to $11) along the quays on either side of the Seine, but with hundreds of thousands hanging on the bridge, they were too heavy for its elegant ironwork. There was a constant risk that batches of the locks or even a whole panel could have come crashing down on the boats passing beneath. For some time, the city has periodically replaced whole sections of the bridge, only to see them fill again with locks.
On Monday, there were places where the locks had torn the metal grillwork out of its frame and the locks had scattered onto the bridge.
The locks still affixed to the bridge weigh an estimated 45 tons and will be kept in a city warehouse after they are removed until the officials decide what to do with them. Some are likely to be melted down, meeting the same fate as the love of some who attached them to the bridge, but others may have a second life.
Mr. Julliard said the city was looking at recycling some of the panels as works of art or giving them to charities. There is no plan, for now, to fish out the more than 700,000 keys at the bottom of the river.
Scores of tourists, blocked from going onto the bridge (and adding their locks), watched, cameras held aloft, as the operation commenced at midday under a cloudy sky. There was an air of wistfulness among many onlookers.
Anthony Boccanfuso, 52, a tourist who runs a nonprofit in Washington, had wheeled his suitcase up to the edge of the river to get a glimpse of the lock-laden bridge before it was dismantled.
“From a distance, you don’t know that they are locks. Close up, they may be visually ugly, but they tell stories,” he 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 said.
Janice and Samantha Clay, a mother and daughter from Atlanta, visiting Paris on a graduation trip, were a little regretful.
“It’s sad,” said Janice Clay, adding, “If it had never been there, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it’s on your bucket list for Paris: See the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the bridge of love.”
One person who was unabashedly pleased with the city’s move was Lisa Anselmo, who with a friend, Lisa Taylor Huff, championed the removal of the locks and started nolovelocks.com on the web.
“It’s an important first step for Paris,” Ms. Anselmo said. “Paris is ground zero in this trend” of attaching locks to architecture. Berlin, London and New York have all seen similar phenomena.
“As a tourist, the most important thing is to be respectful of a place’s culture,” she said.
However, it looks as if Ms. Anselmo and Ms. Taylor Huff, as well as the Paris mayor’s office, still have lots of work ahead. Although city officials are also removing locks from the nearby Pont de l’Archevêché, the locks have already spread like barnacles onto several other bridges. The city has no plans to fine tourists who use love locks, but it will remove them from other locations.
The next bridge up the Seine, the Pont Neuf, already has a scattering of locks along grillwork where the bridge joins the quay. No doubt that with the Pont des Arts now out of bounds, those intent on locking their love in metal will find other places to do so.
But if you think about it most of those people are not together anymore anyway……….