'Love Locks': Venice Plans Crackdown on Lovers' Ritual

Attaching "love locks" to the city's bridges is damaging the aging structures.

Aug. 27, 2011— -- Sweethearts expressing their undying love in Venice could be in for a fine or worse if some Italians get their way. The trend of attaching "love locks" to the city's bridges is damaging the ageing structures, and city officals say urgent action is needed.

Venice is known for its romantic atmosphere, but city officials say a growing trend which sees couples express their love has become a menace. Inspired by the northern Italian city's affinity for amore, starry-eyed couples have recently been attaching padlocks to various bridges. They write their names or initials on them, perhaps even adding a heart, then lock them, throwing the key in the river as a symbol of their eternal love.

But some Italians argue that the new tradition, popularly known as "love locks," actually amounts to vandalism and warrants punishment, not sentiment. Anyone caught expressing their devotion via padlocks on Venice property should be slapped with a €3,000 fine and up to a year behind bars, newspaper La Repubblica wrote in an editorial this week.

With the trend spreading to the city's landmark Rialto Bridge, Venice city officials have become impatient. "We are on the verge of intervening," Stefania Battaggia, the director of Venice's office of urban quality told local daily Nuova Venezia. "Already in the autumn and last summer, many padlocks were taken off the Accademia and Scalzi bridges. We will also immediately intervene at the Rialto Bridge, as it involves a case more serious than the previous ones."

Love Locks Around the World

The phenomenon is not totally new to Venice, or the rest of the world, where bridges, gates, lampposts and even trees can be found covered in locks as far afield as Rome, Cologne, Riga and China. Some 5,000 love locks on Florence's busy Ponte Vecchio Bridge became such a problem that officials there had them removed in 2006, levying a fine on fresh offenses.

While it may be a charming dalliance elsewhere, rust from metal padlocks is damaging the 16th century Rialto Bridge, a symbol of the city, Venice official Battaggia told British daily The Guardian. Though the paper also reports that the phenomenon is inspired by a scene in author Federico Moccia's 2006 novel "I Want You," other reports say the practice can be traced back to earlier traditions elsewhere in the world. In Florence, for example, the tradition may date back to well before that year, when soldiers reportedly attached their wardrobe locks to city structures to celebrate the end of their military service.