The padlock; a tool used to physically prevent unauthorised entry into somewhere or something, a tool that exists purely to keep people out. As elegant as the internal mechanics of such a device may be, this chunky, practical bit of metal seems an unlikely emblem for love. Incredibly though, while it could easily be considered a symbol of oppression, imprisonment, authority or secrecy, the humble padlock has experienced something of a romantic rebranding in recent years.
This is thanks to the emergence of ‘love locks’ in cities across the world. Hokey to some and romantic to others, a love lock is a padlock that has had the names of a pair of lovers scrawled onto its surface and its key discarded forever.
Often attached to bridges or other public structures by sentimental sweethearts to symbolise their enduring love for one another, love locks are a modern invigoration of what is thought by some to be an ancient custom.
Some attribute the practice of two lovers symbolically locking themselves together and throwing away the key to ancient China, whilst others say that the practice comes from Hungarian students in the 1980s, who began leaving padlocks on the fence linking the main square to the cathedral, though some contend that this was done to honour their determination to finishing their studies.
Another account holds that modern love locking can be traced back to World War I to the Most Ljubavi (literally, ‘the bridge of love’) in Serbia. An old Serbian story of love and betrayal tells of a couple who are separated when one of them goes to war in Greece, and then ultimately falls in love with another woman. The young girls of the town were reportedly so affected by this tale that they took to writing the names of themselves and their lovers on padlocks and fixing them to the Most Ljubavi to stop this happening.
Whatever the origin, the love lock is a worldwide phenomenon and has become endemic to a number of hot spots across the world.
Since the early 2000s, the phenomenon of love locking has spread like wildfire across the globe, and books such as a ‘I Want You’, a 2006 work by Italian author Federico Moccia, which has sparked a trend of attaching love locks to the Ponte Milvio bridge in Rome, have only stoked the flames of the love locking craze.
In fact, the locks have become so popular that they have led to the emergence of a mini-industry. Padlocks created with the sole intention of being used as love locks are now available from a number of retailers. In areas where love locking is particularly prevalent, one will often find vendors selling padlocks next to famous love lock bridges, and custom love locks are widely available online. Various designs of heart-shaped padlocks seem to be the most popular, and a number of suppliers also offer custom engraving at extra cost. Even gold-plated padlocks can be bought for around £70 for lovers with enough romantic sentiment/disposable income.
And it doesn’t stop there.
There exists a community that holds love locking in such high esteem that they have themed their town around the custom. The town of Lovelock, Nevada has become a tourist trap with the practice of love locking at its core, and the town’s website even lists all the shops where one can buy a love lock and encourages visitors to fix their own to one of the chains in ‘Lovers Lock Plaza’.
However, it’s not all roses for the love lock. Next week, we’ll look at the controversies of love locking, why a Parisian campaign against the practice called ‘No Love Locks’ has been gaining traction among concerned citizens, and why not everyone feels the love for the love lock.
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