There was a time when lovers carved their initials into trees as a testament to their love. We’re all environmentalists now, so that practice has fallen from favour.  Romantics are turning to another expression of devotion — lovelocks.

The first time I saw lovelocks clipped to a bridge railing was this past November on a visit to Ottawa. I had set out with great interest in the Corktown Footbridge. This pedestrian bridge spans the Rideau Canal to link Somerset Street East and the University of Ottawa to Somerset Street West in Centretown. Previous to 2006, the canal could only be crossed when the waters froze over in the coldest winter months.




Couples purchase a lock that they can either write or engrave their names on. They connect it to the railing of the bridge, then toss the key into the water as a symbolic act of commitment. To quote one frustrated observer, “If you’re going to add a love lock to the collection, you are supposed to put your names, a date of significance, and throw away the keys. Combination locks DO NOT have keys!”

Lovelocks on bridge in Cologne, Germany
(photo credit: Luca Gargano)

The lovelock tradition hales from a footbridge in the Serbian town of Vrnjačka Banja. In the early 1900’s, a local schoolmistress named Nada met there with a soldier named Relja. The couple pledged their love for one another, but when World War 1 called him to serve on the Thessaloniki front, Relja’s affections changed. He fell in love with and married a woman from Corfu, Greece where he remained.  Nada died, it is said, from a broken heart.

 Love Bridge, Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia, Wikimedia Commons
Love Bridge, Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia, Wikimedia Commons

Young couples began visiting the bridge to pledge their devotion to one another by adding a lock to the rail and tossing the key into the river. The practice grew in popularity after publication of “A Prayer for Love”, a poem by Desanka Maksimovic.  Lovelocks appeared on bridges in Rome after Federico Moccia’s I Need You described a couple connecting a lock to a lamp post on the Milvian Bridge. The popularity of lovelocks is spreading across North America and Europe. Adding a lovelock to a railing has even become a popular add on to some wedding ceremonies.

lamp post at milvian bridge
Italian officials express concern that the weight of the locks may topple the light posts.

Not everyone is keen on the idea

City officials in Ireland, France, and even Canada have removed lovelocks from bridges citing concerns over aesthetics and the risk of damage to the metal railings. Also, the clusters of locks prohibit views of the railings and other architectural details.

In Paris, officials removed padlock laden railings from the Pont des Arts this past summer, for fear that they may separate from the bridge and crush boats passing beneath. Kentucky has taken steps to ban lovelocks from being attached to their bridges.