It’s the month of love again, and in many countries around the world, lovers are publicly pledging their undying love for each other, from wearing matching shirts and bracelets, to buying couples rings. I was in Europe for Valentine’s Day last year, and I saw one interesting custom they have: they use padlocks to symbolize their eternal love.
Couples would choose a lock, inscribe it with their names or initials, and then choose a public place—a bridge, fence, pole, a wall, a statue—where they can hang their padlock. It is believed that as long as the lock remains there, their love will remain true.
The use of padlocks to symbolize the “locking of love” reportedly originated from China. However, for the Chinese, this ritual is not limited to couples. Even family members and friends can use the symbol of the padlock to show their love for each other.
How this custom spread in Europe is still unknown. However, it did become highly popular in the early 2000s when Italian writer Federico Moccia published his novel I Want You, where a couple attached a bicycle lock on a lamppost to show their love for each other.
The first love lock I saw in Europe was in Copenhagen. I was looking at the frozen river in Christiania when I saw the solitary padlock on the railing, and my friend Nis had to explain it to me. I wondered why there was only one there, though. Is the practice not so popular in Denmark? Or is it because the residents of Christiania don’t subscribe to this belief?
When I was walking towards the Old Town in Dresden, I also saw a single love lock on the bridge crossing the River Elbe. The lack of railing didn’t faze the couple; they attached a chain around one of the supports and then hung their padlock there.
The inscription reads: “Jana+Jens für Immer” (“Jana+Jens Forever”). It was enough to make me wish I still had someone to hang a lock with, too!
In other cities in Europe, however, the use of love locks is more popular. In Italy, for example, you can find those padlocks everywhere. In Rome, it has been prohibited, especially in the Ponte Milvio Bridge on the River Tiber, because it was so popular that the hundreds of padlocks on the bridge were endangering its structure.
The city mayor called it vandalism and enforced a 50-euro fine for couples caught attaching padlocks on the bridge.
In Venice, though, it doesn’t seem to be considered vandalism. You can see love locks on some bridges, and it is assumed that, following what Moccia’s characters have done in the book, the couples would then throw away the key into the river, symbolically locking their love forever.
A lot of love locks can be seen on Charles Bridge in Prague as well. Praha is one of the most romantic cities in Europe, and it is easy to see couples standing on the bridge, looking at Prague Castle in the distance, and pledging forever to each other.
Some have attached their love locks on the marker showing St. John of Nepomuk being tortured to death and thrown off the Charles Bridge. Is it romantic or what?
In Verona, though, the city of Romeo and Juliet, you will never see more locks than in Casa di Giulietta, where there are hundreds of colorful padlocks affixed to the wall in the courtyard inside Juliet’s House.
Indeed, who else can represent forever undying love than these two star-crossed lovers? As if the padlocks were not enough, couples would write their names or initials on the walls, too, making the whole place a haven for graffiti lovers.
What’s unique about the padlocks there though is that most of them are of different colors—there are red ones, yellow ones, purple ones, and even green and orange ones. Nowhere else in Europe did I see such colorful love locks than here.
It was only in Budapest, though, that I saw bicycle locks being used. I wonder if it’s supposed to make their love bigger and last longer?
I also liked the humor I’ve seen there. Whereas in most cities in Europe, names or initials would suffice, one lock in Budapest chose to write their (assumed) affectionate nicknames for each other: “Big Nose loves Big Face.” Is there anything sweeter than that?
Yes, I know that this post is cheesier than most. Then again, it’s the love month, after all, so we’re entitled to be cheesy, aren’t we? 😉
Have you ever used a love lock? Where did you hang it? If not, do you have any quaint custom for lovers in your country?